Can Restaurant Managers Talk with Sick Workers? Three Things Restaurant Managers Need To Know

Restaurant managers: Talk to your employees about their symptoms and diagnoses so you can make sure sick workers don’t spread foodborne illness.

Graphic art image of two food workers talking.
  • Nearly half of restaurant-related outbreaks are caused by sick food workers.
  • Managers need to know if their workers are sick so they can decide if they should handle food.

Three Things To Know

1. The Food Code encourages employee and manager conversations about foodborne illness.

  • The Food Code is a science-based model code published by the Food and Drug Administration that states can use to develop or update their food safety rules to help prevent illness and outbreaks.
  • It says that employees should tell their managers about possible foodborne illness symptoms and that it is the manager’s responsibility to ensure employees are aware of these reporting requirements.
  • Most state and local food codes in the United States are modeled on the FDA Food Code.

2. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) does not prevent restaurant managers from asking employees about foodborne illness symptoms and diagnoses.

  • HIPAA sets privacy standards for protected health information.
  • HIPAA does prevent a health care provider from sharing health information about an employee with that employee’s manager but it does not prevent a restaurant manager from asking an employee about their illness symptoms.

3. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) does not prevent managers from asking employees about foodborne illness symptoms and diagnoses.

  • Most foodborne illnesses are mild and short-term and are not considered disabilities under ADA.
  • If an employee does not have an ADA disability, the manager can follow the Food Code’s guidance without considering the ADA. And in the rare event that an employee does have a foodborne illness that is considered a disability, employers would consider both ADA and the Food Code.

Restaurant managers and employees can work together to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses.

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Learn More

Food Codeexternal icon (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Food Safety Resources for Environmental Health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employersexternal icon (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)