In a recent survey by Harvard University, about 2/3 of adults with low paying jobs indicated that they go to work when they are sick, even though they risk infecting others. These low earners fall short in more than wages; they usually have fewer paid sick days per year, too. The combination of low wages and little or no paid leave means that these employees end up heading into the workplace even when they are contagious. Those working in an office, retail store, or factory setting can easily infect their co-workers, but those in food service and restaurant settings can also infect customers.
According to the Survey:
Only 38% of those in low paying jobs are offered paid sick days, contrasted with 80% of workers with average or high paying jobs
65% of those working for low wages head to work when they know they are sick, compared with just 48% of those in higher paying jobs
Employees use, but don’t abuse sick time. 75% of those workers who are offered paid sick days don’t actually use all the time allotted; they only take time off when they are truly sick.
These survey results are more than just numbers on the page. The data has real world implications that can be devastating. For example, in late 2015 Chipotle had a well-publicized norovirus outbreak that impacted 136 customers who ate at the chain restaurant. To make matters worse the virus also spread to others who had contact with the infected customers. The survey data begs the question, could the spread of the virus been stopped if the infected Chipotle employee had paid time off?
Keep Sick Employees Away from Work
One of the easiest ways to eliminate the risk of a food related illness outbreak is to encourage sick employees to stay home. For low wage earners, there is no incentive to stay away from the workplace while sick. By offering paid sick leave, hospitality businesses and restaurants can help mitigate risk by ensuring that ill employees have a much needed out. Some states, including California, are already taking steps to legislate paid sick time for those who work in food service.
Monitor Employees Who do Show Up
Employees who are obviously ill but attempting to work anyway should be encouraged to go home. In February 2016, Chipotle instituted a policy designed to improve food safety; sick employees spotted on the job need to go home at once to avoid the risk of spreading germs to customers and coworkers; sick workers are granted 5 days paid time off to recover. The chain also has a policy regarding vomiting; if an employee or customer vomits in the store, that location needs to stop serving food and close immediately for a thorough cleaning. Policies like these can keep your customers and employees healthy.
Increased Focus on Hygiene Sick employees aren’t the only way illness can be spread. Viruses can also be hiding in your food service supplies and prep areas, waiting to infect the next customer who purchases. Since many illnesses are contagious before the first symptoms show up and an increased focus on hand washing can help lower your risk of contamination and prevent the spread of viruses from one area to the next. Having clearly defined policies for how frequently workers should wash hands, the time it should take to wash hands for food safety (the CDC recommends a minimum of 20 seconds), and regular training can help boost awareness and improve hygiene. Additionally, properly sanitizing food service supplies that both customers and employees come into contact with, such as dishware, cutlery, and serving dishes, will also help to lower the rate of transmission. The less interaction an ill employee has with your customers, your food service supplies and your actual food prep area, the better. Regularly monitoring for illness, boosting employee awareness, and incentivizing employees to stay home when they are ill by offering paid sick days can cut your risk of a food borne illness outbreak and keep your customers safe.