By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 20, 2015
Credit: © Lisa F. Young / Alamy Stock Photo

The general American attitude toward work seems to be that more of it makes us better people. It’s an ideology that makes a lot of people sick. Sometimes literally.

A new survey from Alchemy Systems, a company who deals with productivity in the food industry, found that just over half of all food workers said they “always” or “frequently” go to work when they’re sick. Sadly, it’s not because they don’t care. Around 90 percent of people said they felt responsible for the safety and well-being of customers. Instead, nearly half of people said they went to work sick anyway because they “can’t afford to lose pay.”

Obviously, having sick people handling food can have plenty of negative health repercussions. But many food workers don’t have a choice. Beyond simply losing wages, taking time off can have even greater costs. “It's also that they'd actually be penalized, fired or retaliated against for taking a day off when sick,” Saru Jayaraman, codirector of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR.

Though recent trends in the food world—whether it’s raising minimum wage for fast food workers or replacing tipping with increased, flat compensation—can greatly benefit many people who work in the food industry, surveys such as this one remind us that creating a better work environment can have ramifications beyond employees’ income; it can affect our health as well.