It’s Friday night and three of your staff have called in sick. When this happens, would you ever ask the person who seems the least sick to still come in…just for a couple of hours? It can be tempting for short-staffed restaurants to make such a request, but this can have significant consequences. According to Francine Shaw and Matthew Regusci, food safety experts who host a podcast about the topic, more than 40 percent of restaurant foodborne illness outbreaks are caused by employees coming to work sick. What’s more, Shaw said only about 23 percent of restaurants have written policies in place telling employees not to come to work sick. As flu season approaches again, make sure you and your staff are clear on what symptoms should prevent them from coming to work. Some symptoms are clearer than others. Vomiting and diarrhea are among the clearer ones. But how about a sore throat, mild fever or bad cold? Make sure your policy is clear – and don’t be afraid to tell customers that their order may take a little longer because you’re short-staffed due to illness. Explain that you’re just trying to keep them safe.
Your restaurant could seemingly be doing all the right things when it comes to protecting food – storing it safely, keeping it at the proper temperatures, being mindful of cross-contamination. But those precautions won’t go far enough if you’re lax about having sick employees work. According to health officials, food workers who came to work sick or contagious have contributed to about 40 percent of restaurant food poisoning outbreaks in recent years, with norovirus and salmonella being the most common causes of illness. Even if you have a policy that, on its face, restricts staff from working while sick, it may not be doing enough. An ABC news report about the findings said while 85 percent of restaurants said their policies restrict staff from working while sick, only 16 percent of the policies were detailed enough to require workers to alert managers and remain home if they had certain symptoms of illness, including vomiting, diarrhea, and sore throat with fever.
Even as the pandemic wanes and many cities relax their vaccine mandates, restaurant operators continue to be in a difficult position – managing consumers and employees who are concerned about Covid on one hand, as well as people who are determined to resume life as it was before the pandemic. If you find yourself in this position, do as much as you can to get out in front of the challenge: On your website, social media, front-door signage and menu, post clear, brief, easily digestible information about your safety policy – and surround it in welcoming terms. Your safety standards are about taking care of your staff and everyone who enters your restaurant so you can continue to serve your guests the food they love. If needed, a member of staff can help reinforce the message as guests enter your facility so you can avoid having to confront someone after they have bent the rules. Online, have some boilerplate language ready to respond to the trolls – and again here, surround your policy in welcoming, neutral language. For as many guests who boycott your business over safety rules, you are likely to attract many others who will go out of their way to support you because of them.