In the hospitality industry, the looming specter of a disease outbreak is ever-present. Restaurants, food service companies, hotels, and cruise lines face many risks, and perhaps the risk with the most potential for negative financial consequences is that of an illness outbreak that affects patrons of the establishment. U.S. Risk Underwriters, a leading insurance broker with tailored specialty insurance programs for the hospitality industry, knows that employers must adopt employee health policies as a critical risk management step. By creating and implementing employee health standards, businesses can protect themselves against disease outbreaks, which can cost thousands or even millions of dollars in unforeseen expenses.
Illness Outbreaks in the Hospitality Industry
Large-scale illness outbreaks seem to occur on a near-weekly basis; restaurants and food service providers have faced scandals, not to mention millions of dollars in legal expenses and mitigation costs. Some of the largest chain restaurants have been affected by foodborne illness outbreaks, which can occur with frightening frequency. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year in the United States, resulting in about 3000 deaths annually.
Most people are quick to blame food product contamination as the primary source of illness outbreaks, and while this is a common cause, the predominant source of disease pathogens is sick employees. In a long-term study conducted the CDC’s Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net), over 400 restaurants were investigated. The study revealed several troubling findings:
- About 12% of all food workers in the study indicated that they had gone to work while sick, particularly with vomiting and diarrhea.
- Workers in the study were more likely to work when sick if their employer did not have a formal sickness policy in place.
- Workers felt pressured to work when sick if the restaurant or food service operation was busy or if the workers had an inexperienced manager on staff.
In many hospitality establishments, employees are under immense pressure to work even if they have a potentially-dangerous illness. Low wages, lack of paid sick leave, and the fear of losing their jobs are factors that can influence whether or not a worker will continue working even when ill. When a sick worker comes into contact with raw food products, they can create a situation where disease pathogens can spread, potentially affecting fellow staff members and patrons. The ramifications of ill workers causing illness outbreaks cannot be overstated: this situation calls for effective employee health policies to mitigate risks.
Establishing Employee Health Policies
The prospect of a foodborne illness outbreak in the hospitality is quite often a “when, not if” scenario. While insurance brokers like U.S. Risk Underwriters offer a broad range of liability insurance packages for restaurants, hotels, and food service operations, risk management must begin long before insurance enters the picture.
Restaurants and others in the hospitality industry need to implement comprehensive employee health policies, and adhere to the policies at all times. A good employee health policy should include the following components:
- Workers must not be allowed under any circumstances to work if they are sick.
- Paid sick leave provisions for ill employees, eliminating fears about lost wages.
- Ensuring all employees are current on certain vaccinations, including hepatitis.
- Prompt reporting to local health authorities if an employee is diagnosed with one of the following illnesses: Hepatitis, E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella, and norovirus.
- Forging written agreements with all employees that they will not knowingly show up to work when sick.
It is important to recognize the dangers inherent in a disease outbreak caused by sick employees being allowed to work. Lives can be lost, and liability claims can run into the millions of dollars in medical expenses, penalties, settlements, and legal fees. Business interruption is highly likely, which can send a hospitality-oriented business into financial ruin.
Hospitality industry businesses need to be proactive when it comes to curtailing the likelihood of a disease outbreak. Establishing and maintaining employee health policies is a logical first step. Training employees on safe food handling practices can also reduce the chances of a disease outbreak. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a valuable resource for restaurants and food service operations when it comes to safe handling practices and employee health. The FDA’s Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook is available for download, and can also be ordered in hardcover format. With this guide, hospitality managers can begin to take the steps needed to ensure the safety of their patrons.
About U.S. Risk
U.S. Risk Insurance Group, Inc. is a wholesale broker and specialty lines underwriting manager providing a wide range of specialty insurance products and services. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas and operating 16 domestic and international branches, U.S. Risk and its affiliates would like to help you access a world of new markets and products. For more information, contact us today at (800) 232-5830.