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Large LA Restaurants Now Required to Pay Out Two Weeks of Sick Leave During Shutdown

Friday’s lengthy meeting resulted in a several decisions that impact restaurants locally

Los Angeles Times Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council passed a slew of emergency measures during a lengthy council meeting, with many designed to provide relief during the novel coronavirus pandemic, including aid for restaurant workers. Of key importance was one particular item, approved by the council, that immediately requires businesses with more than 501 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees affected by the pandemic.

This new ordinance has a direct impact on a number of businesses with locations in the city of Los Angeles, from independent groups like SugarFish to many national and international Southern California-based chains like BJ’s, Winchell’s Donuts, Panda Express, and Wetzel’s Pretzels.

The original motion 20-0147-S39 put forward by councilmember Nury Martinez would have required all city of Los Angeles businesses — no matter the size — to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for all employees. During public comments, a number of restaurant owners chimed in requesting Council members to consider the impact of required sick leave in the hospitality industry. Wax Paper owner Lauren Lemos spoke at length about the unique considerations for the hospitality industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we understand that this is for the good of our community, it has had a detrimental effect on our business and our employees,” said Lemos in a written comment to the Council. “I know that the City Council has the best interest of our restaurants and our employees at heart.”

Councilmembers showed concern about the ordinance’s potential to hurt smaller businesses, and ultimately chose to keep them out of this requirement. According to the Los Angeles Times, employees at a company with more than 500 employees in the city of Los Angeles can receive paid leave — but only if any public health official recommends self-quarantine, are 65 or older, or have medical conditions that put them in a higher-risk category. They also can receive sick leave if they need to take care of a family member.

The Times story also notes that local labor and community groups were disappointed by the Council’s decision, stating that paid sick leave would help those who are still on the front lines by cooking, prepping, and delivering food.

When reached for comment, the Rosemead-based Panda Express:

“As each community’s mandates shift, we adjust Panda’s nationwide COVID-19 relief People Policies to adhere to local government requirements. Our current benefits are comprehensive to ensure our associates (employees) are taken care of during this challenging time; this includes health & safety pay, change of operations pay, store closure pay, and appreciation pay. As the LA City Council refines the details to sign the final Ordinance, we are currently reviewing our policies against the current Ordinance and will adapt them accordingly. We are committed to being here for all our associates now more than ever.”

The Council also set aside $11 million for the city’s Employment and Workforce Development Department to assist small business organizations with loan applications. All agreed to produce a report on the economic impact of the ordinance, and whether the Federal response requires the Council to change it in the future.

UPDATE: Eater LA added the comment from Panda Express on March 31.