Manager Practices about Workers Working When They Are Sick

EHS-Net Recommends

Future prevention efforts should focus on addressing the sick worker policy and practice shortcomings found in this study.

Restaurants should be encouraged to

  • Include information in their policies about which symptoms should lead to workers being kept from working.
  • Address managers’ and workers’ reasons for working when sick.
photo of sick man grabbing his stomach in bed.

Managers should be encouraged to take a more proactive role in deciding whether sick workers should work.

Managers and workers should be encouraged to not work when sick with foodborne illness symptoms.

Why This Study Was Done

Sick food workers have been linked with past foodborne illness outbreaks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that restaurant food workers not work when sick with symptoms of foodborne illness. FDA also makes recommendations about symptoms that should keep workers from working. Those symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea and other symptoms.

We don’t know how many restaurants have policies about these issues. We also don’t know much about what happens in restaurants when managers and workers are sick. If we learn more about what happens when staff are sick, we can make recommendations to stop them from working when sick. Lowering the number of staff who work when they are sick can reduce the number of foodborne illness outbreaks.

What the Study Described

The purpose of this study was to describe

  • restaurant policies for sick workers,
  • what happens when managers work when sick, and
  • what happens when workers work when sick.

What the Study Found

Most restaurants have ill worker policies, but many of them are incomplete.

Some managers and workers have worked with symptoms consistent with foodborne illness.

Most managers did not ask sick workers if they had foodborne illness symptoms. And in most cases, workers make their own decisions to work when sick.

Managers and workers work when sick for many reasons. They include personal, financial, and social reasons.

Restaurant policies about sick workers

Most restaurants met some of the FDA guidance:

  • Almost three-quarters of restaurants have a sick worker policy.
  • Almost all of the policies require workers to tell managers when they are sick.

However, many policies did not meet other FDA guidance:

  • One in three policies did not list which symptoms should lead to sick workers being kept from working.
  • Most policies did not mention jaundice or sore throat and fever as symptoms that keep a worker from working.

Managers working sick

Almost 70% of managers could remember a time they had worked when sick. Figure 1 shows the most-common reasons managers said they worked when sick.

  • One in 10 said they had nausea or symptoms of “stomach flu.” These are symptoms of foodborne illness.
  • Some managers took steps while at work to keep others from getting sick.
    • Over half did not handle food.
    • 16% washed their hands more often than when they were not sick.
    • About one in 10 wore gloves or masks.

Less than a third of the managers said they asked sick workers if they had vomiting or diarrhea.

Most-Common Reasons Managers Gave for Working When Sick

Workers working sick

More than 60% of managers could remember a time a worker had worked when sick. Figure 1 shows the most-common reasons managers said they thought workers worked when sick.

Managers said

  • About one in 10 workers had nausea or “stomach flu.”
  • Some workers took steps while at work to keep others from getting sick.
    • One in 5 did not handle food.
    • About one in 100 wore gloves or masks.
  • About 80% of workers made the decision themselves to work when sick.

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?

Managerial Practices Regarding Workers Working While Ill pdf icon[PDF – 99 KB] (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)

Manager Practices about Workers Working When They Are Sick pdf icon[PDF – 277 KB] (fact sheet version of this page)

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

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)

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