MEDIA RELEASE: Thousands exposed to hepatitis, highlighting the need for paid sick days

MEDIA RELEASE: Thousands exposed to hepatitis, highlighting the need for paid sick days
Lawsuit alleges a Fayetteville Olive Garden worker risked causing a disease outbreak, something that could be avoided with sensible workplace leave policies

RALEIGH (Aug. 31, 2011) – Because a food server with an illness couldn’t take time off without losing a job, thousands of North Carolinians were exposed to hepatitis, a lawsuit says.

A lawsuit filed in August alleges that a Fayetteville Olive Garden exposed its customers to hepatitis A, resulting in nearly 3,000 locals being vaccinated at the behest of county health officials.

When workers are forced to prepare food while sick, experts say, we risk this kind of public health crisis. That’s why workers need access to paid sick days. Nearly half of North Carolina’s workers, like the Olive Garden worker, lack access to even one paid sick day.

“The public deserves to dine out without getting sick, and workers deserve reasonable time off to care for themselves and their families,” said Louisa Warren, coordinator of the NC Paid Sick Days Coalition. “With paid sick days, public health improves, and businesses and customers alike benefit.”

Olive Garden is owned by Darden Restaurant Group, a large, tremendously profitable corporation that does not provide its workers with paid sick days. In other states, Olive Garden and restaurants like it have faced protests for not providing sick leave.

“When workers don’t have access to sick leave, everyone suffers,” Warren said. “Businesses lose money, workers lose income, and the public loses out on safe food.”

A 2009 study found that guaranteeing North Carolina workers paid sick time would save millions of dollars and provide direct economic benefits to both employers and employees that far outweigh any costs.

Half of North Carolina’s workers – more than 1.6 million people – would “benefit directly,” the report concluded. Employers would profit, too, according to the study: “benefits will substantially outweigh costs” for North Carolina businesses, it said.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • 50 percent of workers (1.635 million private sector employees) will benefit directly
  • Benefits for employers, largely from reduced costs of employee turnover, will total $418 million annually.
  • The weekly cost of the policy for newly covered workers will be $6.39 per worker. Savings to businesses will be $8.69 per worker, for a net savings of $2.30 per worker per week.
  • Workers will save $9 million annually on medical costs and short-term nursing home stays for relatives.

“No one wants hepatitis,” said Warren. “But forcing workers to serve food while sick just makes this potential outbreak and others more likely.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Louisa Warren, Policy Advocate, NC Justice Center, Louisa@ncjustice.org, 919.856.2183; Jeff Shaw, director of communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (mobile).