Would You Like Some Fries and Norovirus With That?

My wife and I were watching pre-State of the Union coverage on TV last night when she made an interesting observation–not about the commentary but about the ads. Have you noticed, she asked, all the commercials for cold and flu medications premised around getting you immediately back on the job? “It’s such a relief,” she said, mocking the ads, “that I have this medicine that will help me stumble out of bed so I can go to work and sneeze on all my colleagues and customers!”

Corporate marketers, I suspect, often have a better bead on the real America than we journalists do. What these ads are showing us is that there are a lot of TV viewers out there who don’t feel they have the latitude to stay home from work when they’re sick, either because they don’t have sick leave or, even if they do, that the pace of work has gotten so frenetic that they feel guilty (or are made to feel guilty) if they stay home.

As it happens, Washington Monthly policy editor Anne Kim has a story up today about the consequences of this kind of insane behavior. Remember last month when 80 people got food poisoning at a Chipotle in Boston? Turns out the cause was a sick employee. More generally:

The CDC reports that infected workers cause as many as 70 percent of the norovirus outbreaks related to contaminated food. And while norovirus might be relatively mild compared to other foodborne illnesses such as salmonella or listeriosis, the CDC says it still accounts for 400,000 emergency room visits a year, especially among children, and contributes to as many as 71,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths, particularly among young children and seniors.

There are consequences, in other words, to how companies treat their employees, and its not just those employees who get hit with them. Anne’s web piece today is a followup to her story in the latest print magazine about how consolidation in the food industry is driving increases in the severity of food-born illnesses. You should read both pieces.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.