When Should You Tell Your Restaurant Manager You're Feeling Sick?

Working in food service can make taking a sick day feel impossible.  You need every shift to make ends meet, your manager expects you to be reliable, and you know you hate being called in on your day off. 

Plus, you're never the only one that's down for the count. The tight quarters of a kitchen mean when something's going around, everybody catches it.

There are some circumstances, though, where pushing through can do more harm than good. In honor of National Food Safety Education Month, let's take a look at when you need to tell your manager you might be sick.

Know What Symptoms or Situations Require Public Health Precautions

Right now, everyone is aware that COVID-19 symptoms may require you to report to a public health agency and/or take precautions like self-isolating.

In the restaurant industry, we've had similar requirements for decades – not for COVID-19, but for common foodborne illnesses. Like COVID-19, certain foodborne infections are both contagious and dangerous.

Food workers who carry these infections can cause an outbreak by passing them on to many customers. That's why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that food workers take certain measures to protect public health.

Many of these recommendations are also required by local health departments, and your restaurant can be penalized if they don't comply. That part is not your responsibility – it's your manager's, but you do need to report certain conditions so they can follow the law.

Here are the guidelines for doing your part.

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Rule #1: Report Any Diagnosis or Exposure to a Big 5 Pathogen. 

The "Big 5" are highly infectious pathogens that cause severe illness and are transmitted easily by food workers, even when they use proper infection-control precautions. 

They are:

  • Norovirus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • E. coli

If you've been diagnosed with any of these illnesses or if you discover you've been exposed by someone who has, you have to report it to your manager immediately, even if you're not feeling sick. 

Your manager will be responsible for ensuring that proper procedure is followed.  The measures they'll take depend on the pathogen, the level of exposure, and whether your facility serves any Highly Susceptible Populations (HSPs).

Rule #2: Don't Come to Work If You Have Vomiting or Diarrhea. 

You should stop working immediately and report to management if you experience vomiting or diarrhea since those symptoms can signal a food-borne illness in its most contagious phase.

You shouldn't report back to work until at least 24 hours after the symptoms have passed.

Rule #3: Report Symptoms of Jaundice.

If your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow, that's called jaundice.  Jaundice can be an indicator that you have one of the Big 5: Hepatitis A.

If you develop jaundice, bring it to the attention of your manager. You also need to go to the doctor – there are other things that can cause jaundice, but they are all pretty serious and require medical attention. 

If you're jaundiced for more than 7 days, you'll need health department clearance to get back to work.

Rule #4: Cover All Infected Wounds Properly. 

If you have infected cuts or sores (particularly on your hands or arms), you should report this to your manager then cover the wound with a clean, impermeable bandage. 

For hand wounds, you should also wear single-use gloves as an extra precaution.

Rule #5: Report a Sore Throat Accompanied by a Fever. 

If you have a sore throat and a fever at the same time, report this to your manager.

Since these symptoms don't usually result from foodborne illness, most food service jobs don't require mandatory sick time. Your manager may just choose to reassign you to a position that limits your exposure to coworkers or customers.  

However, facilities that serve HSPs (like hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and daycare centers) have additional public health requirements. Even a sore throat can represent a health hazard in those environments, so you'll need to stay away from work until you've been cleared by a medical professional. 

Keep Up to Date on All Food Safety Training.

Food safety goes beyond controlling your guests' exposure to contagious foodborne illness. Just as you need to know what illnesses to report to your manager, there may be other food safety regulations you need to meet.

One affordable way to keep current on your state's safe handling regulations is completing online food handler certification

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