CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — EVERY year, 5.5 million people are sickened by norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal bug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is the leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States and is spread primarily by “infected food workers.” Last year cooks, waiters and other workers were involved in about 70 percent of the outbreaks.
This is just one example of the critical role that food workers play in our nation’s economic and public health systems. And yet, while we often tailor employment rules for work that has a special impact on the public, the law has yet to recognize food workers as a distinct class — an approach that harms consumers, the economy and the workers themselves.
Sick restaurant workers provide a particularly vivid example of the kind of legal reform that’s needed. Until recently, very few restaurant workers had the legal right to paid sick time, which meant that many of them went to work very ill (last week voters in Massachusetts and three cities passed paid-sick-leave laws). Federal law can fix this problem by requiring employers to provide their workers with paid time off. [...]
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