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An insight into why you shouldn’t let your teamwork sick (by Jessica-Lynn Mata)

How often do people call in sick to work? 

I read an article on entitled, “The death of the sick day: 90% of employees come to work ill”. I have worked in restaurants for over a decade, and this is the worst industry for having so many employees come to work ill. This is something that has irked me for quite some time. I’d like to shed some light to other employees and employers who either are afraid to call in sick themselves or give grief to those calling in sick.

Some of the Facts…

Now, more than ever is the era for foodies. Current statistics have shown that 72% of Americans normally go out and eat at a quick-service restaurant for lunch, and about 44% go to a full-service restaurant for lunch. And that is for lunch only! 

The full-service restaurant I work at averages about 600 guests each day. Every guest will encounter at least four of our employees, who also encounter with one another throughout the night. 

According to another study done by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, a person does not need to cough or sneeze for the infectious aerosols to reach another person and infect them. All they need to do is BREATHE. It only takes one sick employee in the restaurant to start a domino effect until everyone else catches the same sickness, which in turn can end up with a sick guest as well. Flip it around now, all it takes is for one sick guest to infect one team member. How do we go about preventing a spread on a large scale? Well, obviously we must ensure that our staff takes a sick leave when is needed, right? Unfortunately, that is often not the case in the restaurant industry.

Now Let Me Convince You A Bit…

When an hourly team member calls in sick, and this has happened more than a handful of times to me in the past, some managers get upset and try to guilt them into showing up for their shift anyway. Then they tell the team member to do the job anyway. Or if an employee begins feeling sick in the middle of their shift and wants to go home, some managers do not let them go. 

Why would we want to do that to our staff as managers? How does that make our staff members do their best job even when they end up showing up sick? 

It doesn’t. On the contrary, this makes them feel unvalued, and they become unhappy. Unhappy workers don’t stay. When they don’t stay, turnover goes up, and the company gets hit anyway! Then, what is the point of making the employees with illnesses work as scheduled? No one is winning at this point. 

People stay and leave their jobs for many reasons, but making sure that our employees are taken good care of can go a long way. If they feel valued and if they feel they are cared for, they want to stay. They do not want to feel as though they cannot take a sick day because they may lose their good shifts or get penalized in some way. They will then build up resentment, and they will call out more often when they are not even sick.

From My Own Experience…

I do know that when people feel comfortable with those around them and value their coworkers or employers, they have a harder time to leave that "comfort zone." Employers should create that comfort zone for their employees. Not only can such employers hold on to the good employees, but the good ones will also bring in their friends. Turnover will go down, and guest satisfaction will go up. Good morale is everything, especially in a restaurant. 

Next time when a staff member calls in for sick leave, please let that person go. A restaurant can operate with one less server for one night. That is better than taking the risk of having the sickness goes through the entire roster. 

I just always wonder: Why does every restaurant seem to fall into such a habit of not letting the staff go when they are sick? How can we change this mentality across the board?

About the Author 

Jessica-Lynn Mata is a Senior student at the Collins College of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University Pomona. She is a restaurant manager for Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que with a passion for guest service and satisfaction.



  1. All of my work experience so far has been in food and beverage, and I too have experienced denial and uncertainty of receiving a sick day, and have witnessed similar situations with my coworkers. In my opinion, managers rely heavily on the staff to present the best possible customer service, by giving an employee a sick day, tampers with that idea. Managers are constantly creating and organizing floor plans and dividing up server sections, once a server is lost, the plans must be altered and becomes even more stressful if done last minute. However, I still fully agree with Jessica-Lynn's article. It is important for an establishment to make sure that their staff is able and well taken care of. The hesitance of giving someone a sick day, also comes with a lack of morale. Managers might be under the assumption that they are faking it, and just want the day off, on the other hand, the employee could be doing exactly that. The only way to fix this issue is to clarify the principles of good morale. A workplace is a partnership, and requires the understanding and respect of all parties working together. Managers should be well trained enough to know how to handle the flow of service if and when a server calls out sick. They should be aware of the risks they would be taking by letting them work, and potentially spread the sickness to the guests. Employees should also be considerate of how their actions would be affecting the restaurant and everyone else working in compensation of their absence, and should therefore be completely open and honest in their situation

    Carissa Sanchez
    HRT 3020.03

  2. I have never worked in the Food and Beverages sector; however, I go out and eat outside every single day, perhaps every meal. I do expect being provided the best service and to make the restaurant remarkable. I had a lousy experience a few days ago, my brother and I went to a restaurant in Rowland Heights, and we were served with a server which is suffering from flu. When she was delivering the foods, the server keeps on sneezing. I was afraid that her sneeze contaminated my meal, causing all of the viruses are being spread to everyone in the restaurant. I do think that the servers should be professional in their jobs, and if they are feeling unwell, they should be taking the day off and recovering at home. Managers should be responsible for permitting sick leave instead of letting guests feel uneasy about consuming their meals. What if customers are being infected by foodborne illness? The consequences will be much more severe than slightly being more occupied at that time. We can change this mentality by reminding managers of the effects such as unpleasant experiences for the guests, foodborne illness, high turnover, no employee satisfaction, etc.

    HRT 3020- Section 02

  3. I worked in Food and Beverage my senior year of high school at a Poke bowl place. I remember once I texted my boss saying that I was sick and had a bad sounding cough. He still wanted me to come in because we were "short staffed". I told him I do not want to get anyone sick so I rather stay home but he urged me to come in anyway. I did not want to make guests uncomfortable with my coughing because my job was to make the Poke bowl in front of the guest (Think Chiptole style service). If I were a guest and the server making my food had to excuse themself to cough, that would make me very uncomfortable. This was not the only time my boss did this. Sometimes the coworkers I was working with expressed to me that they were not feeling well and I asked them why did you come in and they said "The boss told me to come in". I feel like this is poor management on the managers side because like the article says, the staff should feel valued and comfortable in their establishment, and the staff at this Poke place did not. If a manager makes the place comfortable then the staff will have a harder time leaving that "comfort zone". I did enjoy working there but this was something that I could definitely see after reading the article.

    Violet Williams
    HRT 3020-Section 3

  4. After reading this title alone, it made me think of everything going on today. With a global pandemic, taking these statistics and personal opinions from those within the industry demonstrates how serious even a simple cold can be, or how easily it is spread. What author, Jessica-Lynn Mata made abundantly clear is that there is no winning when having an employee sick. Many times, myself, I felt I was forced into working sick, or got consequences when returning. Having managers that show employees that even though it may be difficult to cover a shift, does not mean that we will not find a way to make it work. As a manager, it is our job to look out for our whole team’s safety and sometimes that means pushing ourselves a little harder, or going in on a day off, but we do it for our staff and our guests.

    Amelia Chatterton
    HRT 3020-01


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