Exploring U.S. Food System Workers’ Intentions to Work While Ill during the Early COVID-19 Pandemic: A National Survey
With “stay at home” orders in effect during early COVID-19, many United States (U.S.) food system workers attended in-person work to maintain national food supply chain operations. Anecdotally, many encountered barriers to staying home despite symptomatic COVID-19 illness. We conducted a national, cross-sectional, online survey between 31 July and 2 October 2020 among 2535 respondents. Using multivariable regression and free-text analyses, we investigated factors associated with workers’ intentions to attend work while ill (i.e., presenteeism intentions) during the early COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 8.8% of respondents intended to attend work with COVID-19 disease symptoms. Almost half (41.1%) reported low or very low household food security. Workers reporting a higher workplace safety climate score were half as likely to report presenteeism intentions (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.37, 0.75) relative to those reporting lower scores. Workers reporting low (aOR 2.06, 95% CI 1.35, 3.13) or very low (aOR 2.31, 95% CI 1.50, 3.13) household food security levels had twice the odds of reporting presenteeism intentions relative to those reporting high/marginal food security. Workplace culture and safety climate could enable employees to feel like they can take leave when sick during a pandemic, which is critical to maintaining individual and workplace health. We stress the need for strategies which address vulnerabilities and empower food workers to make health-protective decisions.