How Employee Illness Can Affect Restaurants


These days more and more outbreaks are associated with sick employees passing their illnesses to other people while at work. Having employees working while sick is one of the most reckless things any manager or owner of a food establishment can do. Sick employees can transmit illnesses to other employees or, even worse, pass them to customers. Check out what happened at an Illinois McDonald’s that led to 34 cases of hepatitis A:

Illinois Department of Health Links Hepatitis A Outbreak to Employee Handwashing

Sick Employee Policy

It is crucial that all restaurants have a solid sick employee policy. Many restaurant managers give employees two options for when employees are sick: 1) cover your shift or 2) if you can’t find anyone to cover the shift, go ahead and work (even though you’re sick). This way of thinking has to change. If owners and managers don’t want contaminated food in their restaurants, then why should they allow contaminated people to work in them?

If a restaurant has a foodborne illness linked to it, one of the first questions from investigators will be, “What is your policy regarding sick employees?” Let’s look at what components should be in a good sick employee policy.

  1. Don’t allow sick employees to work. Period.
  2. Require a doctor’s note to return to work if more than one shift is missed.
  3. Report to your local health department if any employees are diagnosed with the “Big 5” (see below).
  4. Have employees sign an agreement stating they will not knowingly work while sick.
  5. Make sure employees are up to date on all immunizations, including a complete hepatitis series.
  6. Provide paid time off (sick leave) for all employees. This is a controversial issue. Check out the debate here:

Denver’s Battle Over Paid Sick Leave Fought in Many Other Cities


When Restaurant and Hotel Employees Don’t Have Paid Sick Days, It Hurts Us All

Big 5

There are 5 illnesses that pose the biggest threat to restaurants because of their high attack rate and ability to pass to others. The Big 5 are E. coli, hepatitis A, shigella, salmonella, and norovirus. In the 2009 FDA Food Code, it specifically states that if any employees are diagnosed with these illnesses, this must be reported to the local health department immediately. The food code also sets guidelines for exclusions and restrictions for sick employees with these illnesses.

For more information on the Big 5, read the Big Five Foodborne Illness Sheet:

The Big Five Foodborne Illnesses Information Sheet

Why a Sick Employee Policy Is Important

By not following a strict sick employee policy, restaurant owners leave themselves open to unnecessary lawsuits. Look who has been successfully sued:

Another Restaurant Employee Infected with Hepatitis A

Read this latest study on why sick employees still come to work:

I’m Sick…and I’ll Be Serving You Tonight

If all restaurants implemented a strong sick employee policy restricting employees from working while sick, it would greatly reduce the number of foodborne illness outbreaks across the country. This would result in improved public health and reduced costs to the health care industry.

With help on developing a good sick employee policy and any other food safety issues, please contact me:

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