My focus for the past 40 years has been on people and performance, often with productivity and quality as primary themes. So, I was interested to see a current situation that somewhat captures a variety of issues into one scenario. Maybe we can learn something about this as we move forward. I hope so…

The basic question might be framed as:

Should we be forcing sick people to work?

This happens all the time, but this might be the capstone for making changes in how the food industry works, with implications for every employer.

Chipotle Stock Prices

Chipotle has seen its stock dive from $750 a share to around 410 over the past three months, mostly because of an outbreak of illnesses associated with its restaurants but somewhat because how the situation was handled by the management team. Sure, food can be contaminated but the CDC found that sick workers caused the outbreaks in Simi Valley CA sickening 234 people and the outbreak in Boston that sickened 151. (Resource    Resource)  – This was found to be a norovirus, one that can come from people who do not wash their hands or who are sick but who come into work — and it is from these sick people that the virus spread to their customers, not from the sources of their food.

A couple of other outbreaks had “unknown causes,” while only the one  in Minnesota could be tied to food contamination: tomatoes and salmonella.

When you pay people survival wages that force them to have to work their hours to pay their bills (and you do not offer paid sick days), you can pretty much expect sick people to show up for work regardless of how they feel. Their illnesses can make their c0-workers sick but they can even sicken your customers. Generally, you will not see the impacts directly, but they can show up in the food industry if the illness is significant and severe.

Sales at Chipotle have dropped 30% in December and the brand’s “premium food” cache may be permanently damaged. Their “food with integrity” reputation has been visibly harmed and their premium prices will take a hit, decreasing their profit margins. Allowing sick people to work has been a huge and costly mistake for them.

A better policy around their human resource management might have been a better decision than this present and truly awful situation where the senior officers of the company are also facing shareholder lawsuits for their actions. That is not to mention that they made hundreds of people sick, costing them and their employers money.

And the ironies can be amazing. CVS Health — their Employer Summary on their website says: “When you join CVS Health, you join a company that cares about your financial and physical health. We provide a comprehensive, market-competitive compensation and benefits package that suits a variety of personal needs and goals.” – but they apparently do not offer sick days to their mostly part-time employee work base, not an uncommon behavior in the industry.

And it is the retail healthcare industry generally tries to avoid providing health care to its people by holding employment hours below 30 for the vast majority of its workers.

It is a complicated world, but I remain convinced that doing more for your worker team has positive short-term and long-term impacts on your business. It will be interesting to see the long-term impacts of the push to raise the minimum wage to $15 or more.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games Scott small picand organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

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