KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A cough. A sneeze. Perhaps a bead of sweat from a fevered brow.
They're not ingredients that are supposed to come with a food order, but a national survey of restaurant workers released last week served up an unsavory possibility.
Two-thirds of 4,323 food servers and preparers surveyed admitted they had worked while sick in the past year.
The "Serving While Sick" report, commissioned by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a labor coalition for restaurant workers, pinpoints two reasons the workers don't stay home:
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* Nearly nine in 10 food-service workers said they lacked paid sick days.
* More than six in 10 said they had no health insurance from any source.
The survey sponsors say those numbers heighten public health risks if the nation's 10 million restaurant industry employees, working in more than 568,000 food and drink establishments, spread disease.
The National Restaurant Association, representing restaurateurs, took issue with the report. It presents a "distorted image of the restaurant industry and its employees while pushing ROC's agenda," said Scott DeFife, executive vice president for policy and government affairs.
DeFife said restaurants must adhere to local food-code regulations that require ill employees to stay home and must follow federal food-handling, safety and sanitation standards.
But the report detailed instances in which that didn't occur.
"Who knows how many customers I got sick because I couldn't go to the back and leave the counter to wash my hands after every sneeze or nose wipe," said June Lindsey, a fast-food worker in Detroit who allowed her name to be used in the report.
Lindsey and other restaurant workers interviewed said they had to go to work or lose pay. In some cases, they said, they had to go to work or lose their jobs.
The high-turnover restaurant industry, in which many workers are part time, generally isn't known for providing paid sick days.
Statistics from the U.S. Labor Department indicate that the restaurant industry is the nation's third highest in terms of occupational injuries and illnesses, ranking after schools and hospitals.