Olive Garden's parent company is offering all of its hourly restaurant employees paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine

BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty ImagesA patient receives an injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Olive Garden’s parent company is offering hourly workers paid time off to get the COVID vaccine.
  • The vaccine will not be required, but the company is strongly encouraging workers to get vaccinated.
  • It’s the first national restaurant group to offer workers paid time off to get the vaccine.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Olive Garden’s parent company is offering paid time off for hourly employees who want to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gene Lee, the CEO of Darden Restaurants — which also owns LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, and The Capital Grille, among other chains — sent an email to staff on Tuesday outlining the new policy.

Hourly workers will now receive up to four hours of paid time off in order to get the vaccine. The time will be split, with two hours allotted for each dose. The pay rate will depend on the employee’s total earnings — which includes tips — over the prior 13 weeks and will be capped at $US20.

In order to receive the pay, employees will need to provide proof that they were vaccinated.

Darden said it is not requiring employees to get vaccinated, but is strongly encouraging it. For managers who wish to get the vaccine, the company said it will provide “scheduling flexibility.”

Lee wrote that the new policy is meant to ensure that workers “who want the vaccine do not have to choose between earning income and getting vaccinated.”

Darden is the first national restaurant group to offer workers paid time off to get the vaccine, though some regional hospitality groups have started offering the benefit to employees in recent weeks.

Other major chains getting involved in the rollout of the vaccine itself. Earlier this month, Starbucks announced it was partnering with Washington state to aid in vaccine distribution. The Seattle-based coffee chain is lending out several employees, who will work full-time on choosing, and then designing, vaccination sites.

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Food service workers are included in phase 1c of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine rollout, along with other essential workers like transportation and logistics employees or housing construction workers. But the guidelines vary by state, which means there’s no set date for when all restaurant workers will be eligible for the vaccine.

The National Restaurant Association is now requesting priority access to the vaccine for food service workers.

“Prioritising testing and vaccine distribution will help ensure the food supply chain for our communities and ensure that agriculture industry and restaurant industry employees will be safe selling and serving healthy food,” Sean Kennedy, a spokesman for the industry group, told CNBC on Monday.

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