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Sick Restaurant Workers Say They Can’t Take Days Off

Forget about that sneeze guard…

SneezeA new study by the workers’ rights group Restaurant Opportunities Center reports that 40% of restaurant employees who worked while sick admitted to coughing or sneezing while preparing food. This troubling statistic becomes even more worrisome when we consider the fact that 74% of those who worked sick said they simply couldn’t afford to stay home for the day and miss their pay.

The report, titled “Backed Into A Corner,” is the centerpiece of an initiative by ROC, the Miami Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, South Florida Jobs with Justice, and other advocates for state legislation that would give low-wage workers the chance to earn sick days.

Paid Sick Leave

While the study was centered in the Miami area, statistics apply across the U.S. restaurant industry. As the report explains, “The workers who can least afford to call in sick and take a day without pay are the most likely to endanger others due to their high interaction with the public.” Among some of the most important findings in the survey:

  • 9 out of 10 Miami restaurant workers lack access to paid sick leave.
  • Nearly half report working while sick.
  • Among that group, 40% became more ill as a result of going to work, increasing negative consequences for themselves and their families.
  • More than 10% claim they’ve infected co-workers.
  • 5% openly admitted to serving potentially contaminated food to the public (expired, dirty or leftover from another customer)
  • 63.6% of respondents say they lack access to health insurance; 46% report they have never seen a doctor.

“While hardworking people are struggling to make ends meet, no worker should have to choose between their health and their job,” ROC’s policy coordinator Jean Souffrant said in a statement.

The issue, however, is nationwide. A recent survey shows that more than half of resident doctors treat patients while they themselves are sick, though of course this demographic earns substantially more — and has greater access to healthcare — than most restaurant workers, whose median wage is just under $10 an hour. In fact, Bloomberg recently published statistics indicating that struggling Americans use fewer sick days overall compared to the period before the recession. Meanwhile, a medical study out of the University of Pittsburgh showed strong evidence that mandatory paid sick leave might have prevented about 5 million fewer cases in the U.S. of the H1N1 virus, (also known as swine flu), during the 2009 pandemic.

New York City has also engaged in a push for mandatory paid sick days, and efforts have already been successful in San Francisco (2007), Washington, D.C. (2008), Seattle (2011) and Connecticut (2012).

Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you need to recover your workers compensation benefits or need legal help managing your Labor and Industries claim, a Washington workers compensation attorney can help you recover the maximum benefits to which you are entitled by law.  We also protect workers from illegal practices during the independent medical examination, and recover damages for those with a Third Party Injury Claim. Contact a Seattle Employment attorney or a Labor Lawyer at Emery Reddy today.

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