For Aaron Christenson, co-owner of Jackson's Corner and Parrilla Grill in Bend, the threat of COVID-19 and its repercussions became all too real when one of his employees tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-July. He said he immediately shut all of his restaurant locations down and mandated employees get tested prior to reopening.
- Remember the good old days when we could pack inside our favorite restaurant with no worries in the world? For some Bend eateries, normalcy is being repeatedly put on hold.
"None of us know a whole heck of a lot about COVID," Christenson said. "You hope it isn't going to happen to your business, of course. We always knew that if someone tested positive, we would close right away. We found out that one of our employees tested positive on Saturday night, so what do you do? You definitely don't open on Sunday."
Christenson said closing was an easy decision in the moment. "We didn't have the answers, and we didn't know the safest way to navigate the situation. We reached out to every resource we could find to try and figure out how to keep a business safely running."
Dan Cole, a current Jackson's Corner employee, noted that the owners have always been reasonable about sick time. That's different than some places, where the norm is to come to work, as service industry workers joke, "unless you're dead."
"I've definitely worked at restaurants where I don't feel comfortable calling in sick, but Jackson's isn't like that," Cole said. "It's the culture within the industry. I feel like some people feel they're revered as being strong for coming to work sick, but obviously in reality they're doing more harm than good. Call in sick to work, that's why we have sick pay."
Since 2016, Oregon law has had a paid sick time law in place for all employees, regardless of whether they work full-time. Employees receive at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work—up to 40 hours per year.
"One time I got suspended for going home sick mid-shift," described Laura Wellington, a longtime service industry worker. "I was working a breakfast job, and I had to be at work at 6:30 am. I mean, you can text people at 5 am begging them to cover your shift, but they aren't going to respond. I was legitimately sick, too; sometimes people call out when they aren't sick, unfortunately, but I honestly should not have been at work that day."
She also touched on positive local experiences. "When I worked at Spork, the owners and the management were really good about covering shifts. They know how to keep people happy and keep them wanting to show up. They understand that life happens... within reason. Right now, though, if someone is feeling sick, I don't think it should be questioned. I think people working in the service industry should be regularly tested for COVID, because... why not?"
Jackson's Corner and Parrilla paid sick leave to all its employees during the shutdown, the restaurants' co-owner told the Source. "There's so much information out there that isn't common knowledge," Christenson said. "The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows businesses to offer employees up to 80 hours of paid sick leave if they need to self-quarantine. We have to pay for it upfront, which we can do because of our PPP loan, but the government will reimburse it. If people knew this program was available then maybe more people would be getting tested. We're also working towards getting our employees tested on a weekly basis. Through the CARES Act, an essential business can utilize their insurance to have a testing booth set up outside of the business every week. Any essential business could be taking advantage of this."
As of press time, all of Christenson's businesses—other than the midtown Parrilla—were scheduled to open Wednesday. The midtown Parrilla location remains closed due to staffing issues. "It's been a learning curve," Christenson said. "Out of around 80 employees, we had two test positive, and they didn't work at the same location. We're learning how to prevent closing in the future if possible. We're learning safer protocols and ways to prevent the spread within the business. We're learning what resources are available. These are crazy times, we really just have to do everything we can to keep one another safe."
More information on the FFCRA: dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave.
More information on the CARES Act: home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/cares.