Chipotle Worker Illegally Fired For Taking Sick Day Gets Job Back

 

After Chipotle illegally fired an employee for trying to take sick leave, the worker went back to work on Monday after a settlement with the company was reached, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection announced this week.

Washington Heights resident Yeral Martinez had attempted to use his sick time for a back injury last October—but the popular burrito chain fired him. In February, he decided to file a complaint after losing his job at an upper Manhattan location.

Now, months later, the department has secured a settlement for Martinez—getting him $7,200 in back pay as well as his job back.

"This is a great day for me because I get to go back to my job and earn money I need to support myself and my family," Martinez said in a statement before his first day back on the job on Monday.

"More importantly this sends a message to all workers and companies that they have to follow the city’s paid sick days law. Especially now as so many people have been sick with COVID-19, it’s important that all workers know they have the right to paid sick days," said Martinez.

He'll also have disciplinary records related to sick leave violations removed, according to 32BJ SEIU, the union that's been fighting to organize Chipotle employees and referred Martinez to the worker protection department to file a complaint.

The paid sick leave law in NYC went into effect in 2014. Four years later, it was expanded to include time off when workers are not only sick but when they or a family member are facing domestic violence.

Chipotle has been caught flouting workers' rights before. In March, workers said they were written up when calling in sick with flu-like symptoms as COVID-19 spread through New York City.

In response to questions about Martinez's case, Chipotle sent a nearly identical statement the company shared with us back in March.

"Chipotle’s policy is to fully comply with the Sick and Safe Leave Act, and we communicate to all employees how they can properly request sick time," Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs and food safety officer at Chipotle, said in a statement. "Employees that are not feeling well are required to stay home and we’ll welcome them back when they are symptom-free."

The company offers three paid sick leave days in NYC, beginning when an employee starts work, rather than waiting for the time to accrue. Employees can accrue two more for a total of five days of paid sick leave a year, Schalow said.

"During this uncertain time, we are being flexible with our current sick leave policies. Quarantined employees will receive pay for their scheduled hours over the 14-day period or their average hours worked based on the last 60 days," Schalow added.

Chipotle's businesses boomed in 2019, with the fast-food chain reporting a year-end revenue increase of 14.8% over the previous year, to $5.6 billion.

The consumer and worker protection department has closed more than 1,800 investigations into complaints on the paid safe and sick leave law since 2014, which has resulted in $12.3 million in fines and restitution for more than 36,000 workers. Cases take 73 days on average, the department says.

Last year, the department closed 255 investigations, resulting in $2.4 million in restitution for about 7,200 workers, according to a May 2020 report.

The department's Commissioner Lorelei Salas said in a statement: "Chipotle needs to follow the law—it is not an option."

"Paid sick leave is more important than ever right now during this public health crisis—workers must be able to use their sick leave without illegal restrictions or retaliation," Salas said.