The Key to a Successful Career in the Food Safety Profession

Roslyn Stone 3/28/17

Why do employees, including those who have paid sick time, work sick?  Why do they come back to work before they are feeling better?  The short answer is: it’s complicated.

During a recent Norovirus outbreak, the health department began interviewing employees during their shift.  Many employees were currently experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and or diarrhea greater than three times per day or experienced one or more of those symptoms within the past several days – including the manager on duty.

Why were they working?  Here’s the answers we heard:

1. Since I had to go to my other part time job, I might as well get out of bed and go to work.

2. I didn’t want to leave my team short staffed.

3. I’d asked for today off and didn’t want my manager to think I was faking it.

4. I called out sick yesterday and didn’t think I could do that two days in a row.

5. My manager told me that too many other employees had already called out and I had to come in! (That  really is what her manager said – the one who was working sick herself).

In a recent study on this subject, the single most significant factor cited by employees on why they don’t call out sick is their manager’s tone of voice.  Yes, tone of voice….  You remember when you did something as a kid and your mother scolded you and used “that” tone to tell you how disappointed she was.  Well, it seems that managers have that same emotional impact; maybe even more so since they control your shift and how many hours you work per week.

How is a restaurant, food service organization, or school supposed to keep sick employees out of work when factors as wide ranging as a manager’s tone of voice impact their decision to work sick?  It’s a huge challenge, but one we can positively impact.

Training, Training, Training

Every employee must sign a safe working statement prior to employment and be reminded of why it’s so important to maintain these standards.

Every employee needs to know what Norovirus is – what it looks like, how you get it, that they are shedding (contagious) for days after the vomiting stops, and that normal household cleaning products don’t kill the virus.  All this information will help them understand the tremendous risks of working when symptomatic or coming back to work too soon.

Finally, managers need to be better trained if they are the individuals monitoring the staff and facility. Managers need to understand their responsibilities – to lead by example; not working sick, provide training to their employees on an on-going basis,  communicate effectively that we have a higher responsibility to the public by ensuring we do not spread germs, and how easy it is to spread diseases when handling food.

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the US and continues to pose  challenges to the industry and to food safety professionals.  Some employees will always work sick; others will never tell their managers about symptoms. Discouraging employees from working sick will have a huge impact on reducing the spread of Norovirus and its impact on the food industry.

Roslyn Stone, MPH is the Chief Operating Officer of Corporate Wellness, Inc. – who provides medical crisis prevention and support services to the restaurant and food service industries.

To learn  more about what we do, check out our new video:

By Roslyn Stone, MPH

COO, Corporate Wellness, Inc.