Food Workers Working When They Are Sick

EHS-Net Recommends

More efforts are needed so fewer food workers work when they are sick. Restaurant managers and food-safety programs should consider urging restaurants to create

  • Policies that require food workers to tell managers when they are sick.
  • Schedules that ease the pressure for workers to work when they are sick. One example is having on-call workers for every shift.
Photo of a waitress serving multiple plates in a restaurant.

More research is needed to better know

  • Why restaurants with managers with more experience have fewer workers who work when they are sick.
  • What other factors guide a worker’s choice to work when sick. Factors could include
    • Workplace culture.
    • Severity of symptoms.
    • Need for income.
    • Views and beliefs about working when sick.
  • The link between paid sick leave and workers working when they are sick.

Why This Study Was Done

Millions of people get sick every year from food. Many of these illnesses have been linked to restaurants. Food eaten at restaurants sometimes makes people sick because food workers handled the food when they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea.

Germs from sick food workers can get onto food if workers do not wash their hands properly and then touch food with their bare hands. If that food will not be cooked—for example, salads and sandwiches—customers who eat it can then get sick.

What the Study Described

This study described traits of food workers who worked when they were sick. The study also looked at traits of restaurants where workers worked when they were sick. If we know this information, it can help us prevent workers from working in restaurants when they are sick. This will help protect customers from getting sick.

What the Study Found

Twelve percent of workers said they worked when they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea on two or more shifts during the last year.

Workers were more likely to say they had worked when sick if they worked in a restaurant that

  • Served more than 300 meals a day.
  • Did not have a policy that required workers to tell a manager when they are sick.
  • Did not have an on-call worker.
  • Had a manager with less than 4 years of experience.

Male workers were more likely to say they had worked when sick.

Several factors were not related to whether workers said they had worked while sick. These factors included restaurant type, manager and food worker training, and paid sick leave.

What Is EHS-Net?

This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness.

Want More Information?

Factors Associated with Food Workers Working While Experiencing Vomiting or Diarrhea pdf icon[PDF – 187 KB] (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)

Food Workers Working When They Are Sick pdf icon[PDF – 272 KB] (fact sheet version of this page)

Food Workers’ Reasons for Working When Sick (plain language summary of another sick worker article)

Factors Linked with Food Workers Working When Sick (plain language summary of another sick worker article)

Manager Practices about Workers Working When They Are Sick (plain language summary of another sick worker article)

Ill Food Worker Study (study information)

More EHS-Net publications by Study Topic

More Food Safety Study Findings in Plain Language

Page last reviewed: June 18, 2019