chuck.jpgThis time of year, parents across the country hope their kids don’t end up bringing home serious colds and flu from school. They send their children off to their classrooms with hand sanitizers, tell them not to kiss their little buddies, and fill them with vitamins.

But parents don’t seem to think twice when they take the little buggers to places like McDonald’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Maybe they should.

Turns out many of the workers at these places that offer food and fun for kids don’t get paid sick days. That means workers, most of which are making fairly low wages, have to choose between coming to work sick or staying home and missing a day or week’s pay, depending how sick they are.

So, what choice do you think most of these employees — who handle the food your kids are chowing down on — would make? They’re coming to work sick!

According to a story in the Journal of Food Protection:

11.9 percent of workers said they had worked while suffering vomiting or diarrhea on two or more shifts in the previous year.

Factors associated with workers having worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea were (i) high volume of meals served, (ii) lack of policies requiring workers to report illness to managers, (iii) lack of on-call workers, (iv) lack of manager experience, and (v) workers of the male gender.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a guide that tells you which of these establishments actually give their workers paid time off? Say hello to a diners’ guide like no other: “ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012: A Consumer Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants.” It won’t tell you how the dishes taste but it may help you determine the likelihood of germs in your food.

I came across this guide, published by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, or ROC, when I was a guest speaker at a Ford Foundation event late last year convened by the Family Values @ Work Consortium to look at the lack of paid sick days and paid time off for millions of American workers.

I quickly thumbed through the guide to see if the places I go to with my kids was in the book. I don’t go often to Chuck E. Cheese’s or McDonald’s but on occasion you’ll find us there. So I was surprised to see the ratings for these to mega businesses.

The book’s authors had researchers call these establishments in a number of states and found both did not provide paid sick days. I reached out to both Chuck E. Cheese’s and McDonald’s about this and neither company respondent.

Crew members and cashiers at McDonald’s get about $7.70 an hour; according to GlassDoor.com; and that’s clearly not enough money to amass a hefty cushion to cover time off for an illness, especially it it’s prolonged.

And it’s not just fast-food joints that are the problem. Starbucks and Ruth’s Chris Steak House are also included in the guide as not providing paid sick time. So much for a germ-free latte.

The lack of sick days at these businesses isn’t unusual for the food-service industry. About 90 percent of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers nationally ROC surveyed reported they didn’t have paid sick leave, and two thirds reported cooking, preparing and serving food while sick.

There is no legal right in this country to paid sick time. The United States is one of the only industrialized nations without a mandatory sick day law. Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland don’t have one either. Some states, including California and New Jersey, have passed paid family leave legislation but those are limited and don’t mandate that employers pick up the tab. The city of San Francisco and Washington DC have sick day laws, and Connecticut recently became the first state to mandate paid sick days.

Only about half of all U.S workers in the private sector even get paid sick time, and the numbers are declining. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only 57 percent of private employers offer workers paid sick time, down from 59 percent in 2004.

And the numbers of even worse for low-wage earners.

This from New Jersey news website NJ.com:

Paid sick days are generally offered less often to employees earning low wages, the report said, with only 24 percent of food preparation workers getting the benefit. In contrast, 87 percent of management and 84 percent of legal employees received sick leave.

Karen White, director of the Work and Family Programs at Rutgers’s Center for Women and Work, finds the disparity troubling.

“We found that providing workers with sick days would have a positive public health impact. It would reduce the number of outbreaks of influenza,” White said.

That’s good news for parents who are worried about their kids’ health. Alas, a large number of corporations don’t make this a priority.

“Too many restaurants serve up poverty wages with no sick leave or chance for advancement for the 10 million families in America who rely on restaurant work,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and director of Restaurant Opportunities Center United. “So not surprisingly, for the last ten years, consumers have been asking us, ‘How can we know which restaurants treat their workers fairly?’ This guide was our response, and we’ve received an overwhelming amount of requests for it from around the country.”

If you want a copy of the guide you can download it here.

Happy dining!

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]