One of the biggest sources of contamination in any restaurant are the people who prepare and serve your customer’s food. According to official food safety regulations, sick workers are supposed to go home, or even better, not come in at all while they are capable of spreading germs.
Unfortunately, two realities make sending a sick employee home a pipe dream in most restaurants: it’s a difficult regulation to enforce and going home means no pay for most food service workers.
Lack of enforcement means employers have little incentive to send home sick employees, and while the potential contamination of food served is a more compelling reason for employers, it’s often far too difficult to trace the origins of common sicknesses. That means restaurants with sick employees on the job are rarely, if ever, blamed for spreading common colds or the flu.
An even bigger problem is the dilemma employees face when they’re sick: they can either stay home and not get paid or come into work and make money. For a majority of food service workers, skipping a day’s pay isn’t an option. That means they come into work sick.
A recent study conducted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) is making its rounds through the media this month that highlights the numbers of food service workers who report coming into work while sick. According to their research, over 60% of employees in the food service industry have reported working while sick.
The ROC advocates paid sick days and health insurance benefits for restaurant workers, and their study found a number of employers who support those ideas. In theory a simple solution like paid sick leave sounds like a great idea that anyone could support. There’s even substantial evidence that indicates basic employee benefits like health coverage and paid sick days actually save businesses money because turnover is reduced and employees work harder for an employer that supports them with benefits.
But the reality is that asking restaurant owners to face a permanent increase in payroll costs is going to be tough to swallow. This is especially true after a year and a half of recession. Owners are in survival mode and probably will remain that way for some time to come. That means they’re not going to be very receptive to ideas that involve spending more money, especially for a program like paid sick days with an abstract benefit like reduced turnover.
Tune in tomorrow for a post exploring the ways independent restaurant owners can improve the benefits they offer employees.