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Restaurant employees not required to let customers know they got infected with COVID-19

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -  As restaurants re-open, owners work to keep their employees safe.

But if an employee does get infected with COVID-19, they’re not required to let customers know, and many are wondering why.

Paul Bartolotta, chef and owner of Bartolotta Restaurant Group, says they work hard to keep their employees and customers safe.

“I think that’s we’ve gone with our barriers, with our distancing, with our UVC lights, with our sanitation policies,” said Bartolotta.

In the age of COVID, masks are as common as appetizers at his restaurants.  And if one of his employees were to get infected,  the public would know about it.

“If the restaurant is required to shut down due to confirmed COVID-19 cases, we begin with the health department, and then at the same time almost simultaneously we’ll have a communication with the media as well so that everyone is aware,” said Bartolotta.

But not every restaurants does that, and they’re not required to.

“It ’s not something we think should be mandated,” said Kristine Hillmer, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

While they don’t think it should be a rule, they do say transparency is the best path.  “We are encouraging out of an abundance of communication and transparency that it’s probably a good idea,” said Hillmer.

So if it is a good idea, why not just make it a rule? Hillmer says just telling customers an employee was sick might be misleading.

“Even though they may have had an employee test positive doesn’t mean the employee was anywhere near where they could even spread it to customers,” said Hillmer.

“I think it’s important to report to people who might have been in contact with that employee,” said Steve Baas from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.  “If one worker tested positive and a customer was in there not on that employees shift, there’s nothing to worry about, there’s not exposure risk,” said Baas.

But not telling customers can be just as damaging, both for their health, and the fact that word will get out.  “Anyone who is under the idea that you’re going to keep this under the carpet I think is a problem because you will erode consumer confidence in your transparency,” said Bartolotta.

He believes building trust is part of keeping their seats filled.  “I want to be at full regimen with my business, I want to employ 900 employees again, the only way I’m going to do that is with a full restaurant,” said Bartolotta, “so I need to be transparent.”

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