What fast-food workers at chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell wish customers knew about working through a pandemic

Fast-food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell are staying open amid the coronavirus outbreak, as nonessential businesses are forced to close across the US.

taco bell Employees
  • Workers told Business Insider that they wished customers would stop coming into stores unnecessarily and paying with cash.
  • Some customers have been berating workers, even coughing on them either accidentally or as a joke amid the coronavirus outbreak.
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As nonessential businesses across the US are forced to shutter, fast-food chains are staying open.

Fast-food chains have updated cleaning policies and shut down seating areas, as they work to keep employees safe. But, some employees aren't convinced that stores should stay open and say that certain customers are making the situation worse.

"We have been severely taken advantage of," a Taco Bell manager told Business Insider. "Not just by the government, but by the customers spraying us with Lysol, the customers ignoring their change, the ones making us feel like were the source of the disease."

The manager and the more than two dozen other workers who spoke with Business Insider over the last week were granted anonymity to allow them to speak freely without fear of retribution. Business Insider confirmed that each employee worked at the company they claimed to, through pay stubs or other documentation.

Fast-food employees offered a wide range of responses on what it is like working during the outbreak. Many are stressed or panicked about catching coronavirus or contributing to its spread. Some wish all locations would shut down, while others are more worried about getting paid if their hours are cut.

Here are six things workers told Business Insider they want customers to know about working during the coronavirus outbreak.

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Talking to more than two dozen workers at chain restaurants, many said that they did not feel safe working during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mark, a McDonald's worker who took unpaid time off to quarantine with his elderly mother, said: "As a customer, [I] would not feel safe patronizing any fast food establishment at this point. Not safe for the workers and not safe for the employees."

Fast-food chains say that they've taken aggressive action to keep workers and employees safe, such as closing seating areas, updating cleaning policies, and rolling out new sick-leave policies. At most chains, including McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Dunkin', franchisees have almost complete control over how workers are treated during the outbreak, including sick-leave policies and pay.

Elise Amendola/AP

Multiple workers raised concerns about customers paying with cash.

"If that disease is anywhere, it's in that cash drawer, and we're opening that thing every 20 seconds at least," said Niki, a McDonald's worker who previously worked as a nurse.

Employees' concerns about handling cash are not unwarranted. The World Health Organization said that cash could be spreading the coronavirus, and advised people to wash their hands after handling money.

In a statement to Business Insider, a WHO representative said people "should wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer after handling money, especially if they are about to eat or before handling food."

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Many workers said they felt as if they had to choose between keeping themselves and their families safe by staying inside and earning a paycheck. So, for some, it was infuriating that customers would leave the house when they did not need to.

"I want customers to know that every time we serve them, we're exposing ourselves to getting sick and vice versa," a McDonald's worker said.

"It can take up to two weeks to show symptoms and some people don't show any at all," he continued. "That means if one of us is sick and we serve you, then you run the risk of catching it, then you infect ten more people, and so on."

Last week, a Starbucks worker said he wanted to ask customers: "Do you really feel that your coffee is essential to put your community and your barista at risk?"

On Friday, Starbucks announced it is closing caf-only stores across the US, temporarily shuttering thousands of locations. All workers will be paid for the next 30 days whether they go to work or stay home.

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Workers reported that some customers were treating employees poorly in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Multiple workers shared stories of customers coughing on them, either by accident or as a "joke." Others said customers had yelled at them due to restricted hours or longer wait times.

"I hate to generalize, but so many Starbucks customers are extremely entitled," a second Starbucks worker said. "They will cough all over us without covering their mouths, they will berate us, all in the midst of a pandemic."

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Many workers said that they had heard from older customer who were annoyed about new safety policies. Some elderly customers were ignoring instruction on social distancing, which encourages people to stay six feet apart from others who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

"To the elderly customers that DEMAND reasoning for closures and menu changes, WERE DOING IT FOR YOU MOST OF ALL!" the Taco Bell manager said.

"When thing go back to normal, I will be the first one to welcome you back into my business," he continued. "We just can't take this anymore."

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Many chains are cutting back hours of operation, either because fewer workers are needed after shutting down seating or to try and save money as sales drop. Since most workers are paid by the hour, this means smaller paychecks.

"I'm living paycheck to paycheck and it's gone before I even get paid," said one McDonald's worker, who said she is still grateful for her job and loves working at the company.

"I barely make ends meet and [have] no money left over for anything besides rent and bills," she added.

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