Louise, who’s worked in the hospitality industry for 10 years, says she’s seen “servers come to the restaurant while sick, serve tables, throw up in the bathroom, wash their hands and continue serving.” Louise, who has been working for 10 years in the hospitality industry in Virginia, lives in the Richmond area but declined to be identified by her real name to avoid jeopardizing her job.
Louise said the kitchen and wait staff are forced to choose between working while sick or losing a day’s pay and falling behind on bills. These workers didn’t want to go to work sick. Some risk losing their job if they take a sick day. National studies reveal 80 percent of those without paid sick days are low-wage workers, such as servers and cooks. Louise has suffered from this reality for her entire career, “I have never had a position in the hospitality industry where I’ve had paid sick days, including management positions.”
In Virginia, the situation is dire. More than 1.2 million workers in the commonwealth have no paid sick days. With the threat of the flu season and the spread of the coronavirus, Virginia is facing a public health emergency. Restaurant, childcare and home health workers are in direct contact with the public. When they go to work sick, they spread germs to some of our most vulnerable residents. “A sick restaurant worker is like Typhoid Mary. When one worker comes to work sick, the next day several of us are sick,” said Louise.
National statistics back up Louise’s experience: more than 80 percent of food service workers have no paid sick days and 20 percent of them have gone to work while vomiting or with diarrhea. The Center for Disease Control reports that 50 percent of norovirus outbreaks can be traced back to food service workers and the spread of the H1N1 virus could have been slowed if more workers had access to paid sick days.
Louise wants Virginia legislators to take action and pass laws to require employers to offer paid sick days for all workers. “Restaurant workers should not be going to work sick,” she warned. “You are serving people food, talking to people and always on your feet, so you are getting sicker and making other people sick.”
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy supports two bills, SB481 sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, with Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, as chief co-patron and HB898, sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D Prince William, with Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, and Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, as chief co-patrons. These bills require Virginia businesses with 15 or more employees to provide their workers with up to 40 hours (five days) of paid sick time per year.
The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.