Smaller staffs lead to cut corners. Will a hiring push change anything? 

By Tim Nelson
May 25, 2021
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It hasn't exactly been the greatest period of time for Chipotle. Recently, they've had to raise wages in order to stave off what might have been a widespread mutiny. From the sound of it, that may not be enough to fix the company's relationship with employees, some of whom claim adverse working conditions are having an impact on customers when it comes to food safety. 

A closer look at what's going on behind the scenes from Jacobin suggests that understaffed, overworked Chipotle employees are left in a tough spot when it comes to keeping up with health and safety standards. Jacobin's conversations with employees allege a series of problems including cross-contamination, and meat might always be checked for the appropriate temperature (with multiple employees saying temperature log data is fabricated entirely), and at least one worker swears that even handwashing would fall by the wayside when inspectors weren't present. 

The impetus for these issues could be a particular policy that effectively incentivizes managers to hire as little as possible. According to Jacobin, managers can earn up to a 25 percent bonus over their base pay for minimizing labor costs. Naturally, that would have the effect of encouraging the understaffing of restaurants, and indeed it does, as one employee alleges. 

"They would inflate the number of folks on our schedule — literally creating people that didn't exist— to send to corporate for approval," one former employee says of the situation. 

At Chipotle's corporate headquarters in Orange County (relocated from Denver and New York at great expense), some are raising alarm bells. 

American fast casual restaurants chain, Chipotle Mexican
Credit: SOPA Images via Getty

"People in the offices have been voicing concern because it's a food safety issue," says Ezra (a pseudonymous Chipotle employee). "When a restaurant is short-staffed and the employees are overworked, they have no choice but to cut corners to meet corporate's expectations. That can lead to food-safety issues." 

Those issues aren't hypothetical, either. A Denver-area Chipotle is currently under investigation for a potential food borne illness outbreak. In 2020, a series of Chipotle e. Coli outbreak spanning from 2015 to 2018 that collectively made more than 1,100 customers ill earned the chain a record $25 million fine issued by the Justice Department. 

Though Chipotle didn't comment on any of the issues raised by Jacobin's reporting, they've arguably begun taking steps to change the staffing situation. They recently announced their intention to hire 20,000 workers as part of their wage raising scheme. But as Jacobin alleges, the fact that the starting wage increase to $11 an hour represents a raise of less than a dollar per hour for the chain's lowest-paid employees, so it remains to be seen if they'll hit that quota. 

For now, if your Chipotle looks empty, you may want to consider seeking out a more authentic form of Mexican cuisine instead.