September 26, 2016

People Work Sick, Even When They Should Stay Home

A poll of working adults conducted by National Public Radio (NPR), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of public health has found that many people work when they are sick, even when they should stay h0me. This is especially problematic in the food service industry, since sick food handlers can cause serious outbreaks that can sicken many.

Restaurant Chef

In addition, many working adults say that their current job adversely affects their health. And almost half of all working adults give their workplace only fair or poor ratings in efforts to reduce stress. Workers in restaurant jobs say their job has a bad impact on their stress level. In fact, 54% of restaurant workers, by far the most of any sector, say that their current job is bad for their stress level.

Half of restaurant workers and more than half of workers in medical jobs (60%) say they still go to work “always or most of the time” when they have the flu or a cold. And 21% of restaurant workers say that there is something about their workplace that they think may be harmful to their health.

While two-thirds of full or part time workers have jobs with sick days, only 38% of people in low paying jobs have this benefit. Only 22% of workers in restaurant jobs have this benefit. Some people “save” their sick days for serious illnesses.

About 38% of restaurant workers say that they often/sometimes face potentially dangerous situations. [Editor’s note: I once worked briefly in a restaurant kitchen when conducting a taste panel for Pillsbury; the foot-high flames and slippery floors certainly can be hazardous.]

Kirk Smith of the Minnesota Department of Health told High Plains Public Radio that restaurant workers working while sick is a serious problem. “It’s one of the biggest food safety problems that there is, and we’ve known about it forever,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study late last year on this issue. They found that 12% of food workers said they worked while sick with vomiting or diarrhea. They were less likely to work when sick if the restaurant had a sick leave policy, had a manager with more experience, and had on-call workers available.

The government recommends that restaurants have policies that require food workers to tell managers when they are sick. Schedules that ease pressure for sick workers should be implemented. And more research is needed to understand why people work when sick, including need for income and workplace culture.

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