As the number of cases of COVID-19 coronavirus spread in the U.S. and abroad, citizens are naturally worried about contracting the virus. For those of us who work in industries that make it possible, that might mean working from home more often, thus limiting interactions with people outside your immediate family and avoiding the use of public transportation.
However, for people who work in service industries, particularly in food service or retail, it's not exactly possible to work remotely. But that's far from the only factor that puts these workers at risk of contracting and spreading diseases, as a former pizza place manager explains in a now-viral Twitter thread.
Nine years working for a "better than average" example within the industry gave this former pizza slinger a lot of insight into the policies and culture that make food service workers particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading infectious diseases including COVID-19.
Before you and your friends head out to your local Wendy's with torches and pitchforks, it's not the workers' faults they routinely skip the doctor and work through illness. In fact, following those official guidelines could see them not only missing out on wages but losing their jobs due to missed work.
You may believe that the Affordable Care Act requires all restaurants to provide all workers with insurance. However, it they're small businesses with fewer than 50 workers, they're exempt. And many larger companies keep workers' hours just below full time status to exempt them from benefits. While some states and municipalities require workers receive paid sick leave, it is not mandated federally. On top of this, restaurants rarely have enough staff to cover more than one or two absent sick workers.
Lacking insurance, sick leave, and a comfortable wage, going to the doctor is too costly for most food service employees. They would not only be missing work but they would have to pay out of pocket for the visit, which is an exorbitant expense if you're making little more than minimum wage.
That isn't the only barrier to seeking care. Working through injury and sickness is seen as a badge of honor in the service industry, often encouraged by management who would rather see people working while not 100 percent than try to reconfigure the schedule or work with an even leaner staff. If you call out sick, you often face resentment from peers and possibly could see yourself scheduled for fewer shifts in the future as penalty.
Despite working full time (or as close to full time as possible without being officially full time) hours, Many food workers rely on public assistance of some kind to get by. And if they lose their jobs, they can also lose public assistance benefits because they are only eligible because they are fully employed and still below the poverty line.
So not only is it likely that food workers, who have increased contact with the public through their jobs and are thus at greater risk of contracting an illness, are also unlikely to be able to stay home if they fall ill, especially not for the weeks needed to "clear" a COVID-19 infection. Because doing so could cost them everything.
And let's not also forget another factor that ups this population's vulnerability to disease. All in all, being poor is a public health issue, especially in the U.S. So many factors connected to one's income increase the risk factors.
So what can be done about this? Well, without massive public pressure and costly penalties, it's unlikely restaurants will start paying workers more and offering paid sick leave and health benefits to all workers.
Public health experts agree that a lack of mandated paid sick leave puts workers and the people they come into contact with at higher risk. And as of 2019 numbers, nearly 40 percent of service workers do not receive paid sick leave.
Even the Surgeon General of the United States is calling for mandated paid sick leave. But legislators can do more than just make recommendations. House Democrats have introduced some very timely legislation that would mandate accrued paid leave and would require up to 14 days of paid leave be made immediately available to workers during a public health crisis like the current coronavirus outbreak.