NSC Labor Division news Research/studies Workplace exposures Accommodations/food service

Fast-food workers and COVID-19 exposure in LA: University of California releases report

retail worker
Photo: University of California, Los Angeles

Los Angeles — Nearly a quarter of the fast-food workforce in Los Angeles County tested positive for COVID-19 during the first 18 months of the pandemic, a likely result of adverse working conditions and shaky compliance with safety measures, a recent report from the University of California, Los Angeles and UC Berkeley suggests.

Researchers analyzed the results of 417 surveys and 15 interviews with non-managerial fast-food workers in the county, conducted between June and October 2021. They found that 23% of the workers reported contracting COVID-19, while 49% knew of positive cases among co-workers.

Although 47% of the workers indicated they shuttled regularly between areas of the restaurant – thereby increasing contact with customers and colleagues – 42% said their employers rarely provided notification of possible COVID-19 exposure. This action occurred “sometimes” according to 25% of the workers, while 32% said their employer “took no action of any kind to support exposed workers.”

Other findings:

  • 53% of the workers weren’t provided paid sick leave if they or a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19.
  • 38% said they raised concerns about COVID-19 to their employer. Of this group, 55% reported that their employer didn’t or only partially addressed the problem.
  • 58% reported health and safety hazards, including insufficient staffing (35%), unsafe floors (33%), broken equipment (27%) and pressure to work quickly (26%).
  • 53% endured negative interactions (e.g., yelling, threats and physical assaults) with customers or co-workers over COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Fast-food workers have showed up every day of the COVID-19 pandemic, risking our lives to keep our stores open and our communities fed,” Los Angeles fast-food employee Angelica Hernandez said in a press release. “The companies we work for have called us essential, but this report shows they think we’re disposable and that they’ve decided keeping us in unsafe and unsanitary conditions is worth it for higher corporate profits.”


The researchers recommend employers:

  • Enforce COVID-19 safety protocols and provide workers with adequate protection from retaliation and abuse for enforcement.
  • Strengthen the worker voice in the fast-food industry.
  • Improve labor and health and safety practices in the workplace.
  • Support ongoing industry research.

The report was published online Jan. 4, and accompanies a previous analysis released in March.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)