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McDonald’s Employees are Working through the COVID-19 Pandemic. So Why Don’t They Have Access to Paid Sick and Family Leave?

Essential workers are on the front-lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have suffered higher infection rates because of it. Yet too many of these workers do not have access to paid sick leave and family leave. That means that if an employee comes down with COVID-19, they must choose between safeguarding their own health and the health of others, and potentially losing their job. Nobody should have to make this choice. 

Essential businesses include ubiquitous fast-food chains like McDonald’s, whose workers continue to serve food in restaurants and drive-thrus while many of us have the privilege of staying home under shelter-in-place orders. According to a recent survey, 78 percent of McDonald’s workers reported having no access to paid sick leave. That’s a risk for not only the employees’ health, but the health of their family members — and during the outbreak of a highly infectious disease like COVID-19, the health of all of us. 

Presently, some franchised McDonald’s restaurants provide a limited amount of paid sick leave to meet local and state laws. Corporate restaurants, which represent less than 10 percent of all McDonald’s restaurants, are required to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to workers who test positive for COVID-19 in accordance with McDonald’s latest policy changes. However, many franchised and corporate restaurant workers have flagged huge problems with implementation, and none of these paid sick leave policies adequately protect workers or public health.

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McDonald’s workers are already taking action, staging walkouts and protesting to demand the right to paid sick and family leave for all workers who wear the McDonald’s uniform — in both corporate and franchised restaurants — in the event that they or their immediate family members show symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection. If McDonald’s acts now to address its employees’ demands, it could set the standard among its competitors. This is an opportunity for McDonald’s to prove that it deserves its status as a leader in the fast-food industry.

Unfortunately, McDonald’s isn’t an outlier among corporations in not providing paid leave. In the U.S., an estimated 32.5 million people — or 27 percent of private sector workers — cannot take a single paid sick day to recover from an illness such as COVID-19, or to care for a sick family member, without losing their job or their pay. This injustice comes at a severe cost to anyone working to make a living and support their family. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Paid leave isn’t just about health and economic security. It’s a matter of gender, disability, and racial justice. Lack of access to paid leave disproportionately impacts women, people of color, low-wage and gig workers, undocumented immigrants, and people with disabilities. We’re seeing the result of this inequity in death and infection rates during the pandemic. 

Data show that COVID-19 is hitting Black and Latinx communities the hardest, and one of the reasons is that many essential workers are Black and Latinx. McDonald’s workers are no exception. A majority of its roughly 800,000 U.S. employees are women or people of color. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that paid leave is not only fair, it is critical to protecting the health and well-being of the most vulnerable among us — and public health for all of us. 

As the COVID-19 crisis worsens, hundreds of thousands of McDonald’s workers are making impossible choices every day. No one should be forced to choose between going to work sick during a global pandemic or staying at home and potentially losing their job. McDonald’s — and all employers — must take immediate action and adopt paid leave measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect their workers. If there ever was a time to ensure these policies for workers, the time is now.