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More Than Half of All Food Workers Go To Work Even When They Are Sick

According to the International Business Times, a new study shows that 51 percent of food service workers say they go to work “always” or “frequently” when they are sick.
Photo via Flickr user williambrawley

Say you have a low-paying job that offers you little-to-no sick leave. The staffing is damn lean—meaning there's no one to cover if you are out. You may not have any semblance of allegiance to management, but you do have a bond with your co-workers and you don't want to leave them in the lurch, just because you're leaking pink goo from your orifices. So what do you do?

You show up for work, even if you are sick.


According to the International Business Times, a new study shows that 51 percent of food service workers say they go to work "always" or "frequently" when they are sick. The study was conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy for Alchemy Systems. And the problem is especially prevalent among low-paid, fast-food workers.

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This may very well help to explain the many illnesses—including norovirus, Hhepatitis A, and salmonella—that have been traced of late to fast-food establishments.

Take norovirus, for example. As we've already reported, norovirus can be spread incredibly easily. So if a food service worker is infected with norovirus and he fails to wash his hands properly, a shit storm—literally—may result.

Infected food workers cause 70 percent of norovirus outbreaks, which results in 20 million Americans getting sick each and every year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a crazy number. Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States.

So why are food service workers going to work sick?

Duh: because they have to.

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Many restaurant workers—and basically all fast food workers—simply can't afford to lose the pay by staying home for the day.

It will come as no surprise to you, we're sure, to learn that food service workers are among the lowest paid in the country. When polled, 47 percent of those who work sick said they did so because they couldn't afford to lose pay.


And most do not get paid sick leave. Even at McDonald's, which announced a compensated leave plan this year, the benefits are nowhere near great. The plan only applies to the one-out-of-ten McDonald's stores that are corporate-owned, and only grants employees who work on average 20 hours a week 20 hours of paid leave in a year.

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And now that Danny Meyer of the famed Union Square Hospitality Group based in New York has announced that tipping will be verboten in his establishments, food service workers are even more on edge. Will this put even more pressure on waiters and waitresses to show up to work to ensure that they get their salary for the day—even when they are sick?

Martin Bucknavage, a food safety expert at Pennsylvania State University, told the International Business Times that, given the enormity of the problem, training programs and paid sick leave "need to be considered." "The question is how do you incentivize somebody to stay home when they're ill?"

That's a question the 20 million Americans who got sick last year from norovirus alone would very much like to have answered.