Restaurant Owner Dragged for Pressuring Symptomatic Employee to Work

Internet commenters were quick to eviscerate one pizzeria owner who told their employee they weren't sick enough to call out of work.

In a viral post published on Reddit's r/antiwork, the pizzeria employee shared text messages from the owner and revealed how they were pressured to work, despite being symptomatic. Titled, "Is this illegal? Owner of a pizza place with no medical background tells me I'm not contagious over text," the post has received nearly 10,000 votes and 6,000 comments.

Posting multiple screenshots of text messages with the pizza shop's owner, the employee presented proof that their attempt to call out sick was quickly shut down.

After telling their boss that they were "super stuffed up," and unable to make it to the pizzeria for their scheduled shift, the owner questioned the employee's symptoms and said that congestion did not justify missing multiple days of work.

"It sounds like you can work," the owner texted. "Stuffy nose doesn't qualify for calling out for two days."

"You don't have any symptoms that would cause you to be contagious," he added.

Although screenshots show that the viral Reddit post's author responded to the owner, asking what their qualifications were to determine their contagiousness, the pizzeria employee shared an additional message they received from their boss regarding sick time and how it is meant to be used.

"You should wear a mask. You could take it a step further and wear gloves if you want," he texted the original poster. "Sick time is there if you have a health condition that keeps you from working, but it doesn't sound like your condition meets those requirements."

Symptomatic employee pressured to work
One Redditor said they were pressured to work their scheduled shift at a pizzeria despite showing symptoms potentially consistent with COVID-19. Zinkevych/iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees exhibiting potential COVID symptoms (including congestion) are separated from other employees and sent home immediately.

The center also recommends that employees who begin showing symptoms outside of work stay home altogether, and that employers should not require sick employees to provide a positive COVID-19 test or doctor's note to validate their illness.

However, due to rising COVID cases and increasingly lax state guidelines for returning to work, employees across the country have reported being pressured to work despite showing symptoms, and in some cases, testing positive for COVID-19.

Earlier this month, Newsweek reported that after five COVID-positive employees returned to work at a Rhode Island hospital, the state-run facility suffered an outbreak of cases. A spokesperson for the state's department of health maintained that the outbreak was unrelated to the five employees, but still received criticism for the decision to bring sick staff members back to work.

In thousands of responses to the viral Reddit post, commenters defended the original poster and criticized the pizzeria owner for pushing their employee to work despite being sick.

Redditor u/OffBrandHumanz, whose comment has received 5,900 votes, wrote that even if the original poster does not have COVID, many seem to have forgotten that other illnesses exist.

"I love how since the pandemic started employers completely disregard the fact that A. there are other illnesses, B. other illnesses can be contagious [and] C. other illnesses also can make you feel sh*tty making it much harder to complete what you need to at work," they wrote.

Attempting to answer the original poster's question about the legality of their boss's health evaluations, Redditor u/Pretend_Low_8491 said that a pizzeria owner should not be making decisions based on how contagious sick employees may or may not be.

"I'm not sure if it's illegal," they commented. "But he is not licensed to give medical advice. Period."

Amid many comments advising the original poster to report their employer to their state's health department, Redditor u/candid_canid expressed their disbelief in the situation and encouraged the Reddit post's author to seek employment elsewhere.

"I'd call the store and call out," they wrote. "Permanently."

"We're in the middle of a pandemic, it's beyond irresponsible to ask someone with symptoms of an illness to come in and PREPARE FOOD," they added.