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Backed into the Corner: Serving While Sick in Miami-Dade

Over the past three decades as the restaurant industry has become the third largest private sector in the Miami-Dade region, employing 72,700 workers. The lack of earned paid sick days combined with low wages forces many Miami-Dade restaurant workers into a corner — they have to choose to whether to lose pay when they’re sick or go to work sick — most have no choice, they must work to survive.

Nearly 90% of restaurant workers nationwide have no access to earned paid sick days, and 64% have worked while sick, according to extensive surveying of thousands of restaurant workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, as well as the National Institute of Health’s National Health Interviews Survey.

Miami-Dade County closely mirrors national conditions. The report shows how in the nation’s largest industries, as wages decrease, so does access to earned paid sick days. The workers who need relief the most, have it the least. For Miami-Dade restaurant workers making less than $10.00 an hour, only 11.4 % have access to earned paid sick days, compared to 45.3% of other service and retail workers making higher wages, above $15.00 dollars an hour.

The report also reveals the dangerous health hazards and risk of spreading illness that result when restaurant workers work while they are sick – creating consequences for themselves, their coworkers, the restaurant, and consumers alike.

Erica Sommer, a bartender in Miami, who worked three days with typhoid fever and a fever of 103.7, knows what it is like to be really sick at work, but losing a day’s pay and going home was not an option for her. She said, “No one should have to work sick, particularly restaurant workers serving the public. It feels terrible and puts everyone in danger.”

Key findings in the report include:

  • Nine out of ten Miami restaurant workers have no access to earned paid sick days, and 47.6% report having worked while sick. Three quarters of those that worked sick did so because they could not afford to take the day off.
  • 74% of workers that worked sick cited they could not afford to take the day off without pay.
  • One in five workers that worked while sick cited fear of retribution from their employers as a reason for not staying home. Over 20% of all workers surveyed were uncomfortable asking for time off when sick and another 15% did not think they could do so.
  • Many workers also struggled without a system for workers to find a replacement. One in ten workers that worked sick could not a replacement and did not want to overburden their coworkers.

Serving While Sick: Effect on Workers and Consumers.

  • Among the 47.6% of workers surveyed that worked sick, 65.5% said their work productivity was negatively affected and two-fifths had longer illnesses as a consequence of working, increasing the negative consequences for themselves and their family.
  • Over 40% of those workers surveyed that worked sick reported coughing or sneezing while handling food. And over 10% reported infection their co-workers.

Industry in Need of Reform for Diners and Workers Alike.

  • More than one in ten workers reported pressure to cut corners in a way that could potentially harm customers, and a full 5% reported serving potentially contaminated food – expired, dirty or leftover food to diners.

Miami-Dade Restaurant Workers Need Access to Health Insurance.

  • An overwhelming majority of Miami’s restaurant workers that were surveyed, 63.6%, said they had no access to health insurance.
  • Only 8.8% of workers worked for employers that provided full or partial health insurance.
  • Among workers surveyed with no health insurance, nearly half, 46.1% reported never having seen a doctor.
  • Another 34% have gone to free or discount clinics, and another 16% depended on the emergency room for their healthcare needs.
  • And overall, 24% of all workers surveyed visited an emergency room to obtain health coverage in the past year, and nearly one half were unable to pay adding to the strain to an already overstrained healthcare system.

Download the full report here