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A tough ethical decision

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musenji
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I work at a Papa John's pizzeria as a delivery driver. In addition to delivering, we are required to help make pizzas, pull from the oven and cut/put the sides in the boxes, take phone calls, and pretty much anything else that needs done.

Recently I have noticed that not all of the drivers wash their hands after returning from a run, before they go to help make pizza. Nor do all the managers wash their hands after coming back inside the building after going for a smoke break or some such. It turns out this bugs me quite a bit. I feel like I am deceiving the customers I bring pizzas to, because I assume that customers would expect someone who has left the building would wash hands before touching food again.

I have been told by some people that sure, it's bad, but it's "not worth losing my job over". I have tried to tell myself that it's not that big of a deal, that it's not really hurting anyone (pizza goes through a 430 degree oven, a fair point made to me by a shift manager. However, the little peppers we put in the boxes to go with the pizza do NOT go through the oven). Coincidentally I am also currently reading Tara Smith's "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics", and am on the chapter about honesty. About how honesty is "not attempting to fake reality in any manner whatsoever." And me telling myself it's no big deal feels like a lie half the time.

I am considering telling my boss that I can't ignore it, I can't act like it's no big deal, and I might have to leave, unless everyone starts washing their hands. Which is unfortunate because there are basically no other jobs out there in my city/county, but there you have it.

So I ask you, as customers, would it bother you to know that a driver wasn't washing hands after coming back from a run? Is there any pertinent information I am missing?

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So I ask you, as customers, would it bother you to know that a driver wasn't washing hands after coming back from a run? Is there any pertinent information I am missing?

I have been in hospitality my entire life.

My take on it is if you wouldn't want a customer to see it then don't do it.

Must you lose your job over it though? That is up to you.

If you leave then every customer will get poorly handled food whereas right now the ones you serve are at least getting their food made by someone with some sense.

Call corporate headquarters & the health department. Anonymously.

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Oh. Other pertinent information, my bad.

I already told the boss it was a concern, she agreed it was very important, but she also said when she was in another store and saw a driver clock in and go straight to loading breadsticks into boxes, she thought "well, time for me to leave!" when she would be the one to say something about it.

I also made a side note to one of the drivers, right before he got on makeline, saying, "Not to make a big fuss, but after coming back from a run, could you wash your hands before going on makeline?" He got really pissed off, saying, "I wash my hands when I go to the bathroom. Is that all you had to say to me? Yeah? That's all? Yeah." I said, "Why are you so angry? It's what we DO." "Dude, I wash my hands." There have been better interactions between us since, and I have on occasion (but not consistently) seen him wash before going to makeline. He didn't yesterday, and I didn't say anything because between talking to him, and my boss, and a shift manager, I think any clout I had is spent.

If I call the health department or corporate, everyone will know it was me, of that I can be sure. And I can be pretty sure that if my manager wants to fire me, she will do it. She has said before, of a different employee, that she'd rather train a new employee than keep one who pisses everybody off.

I used to be so positive, working there, too...and I think I could be again, if I just get this one thing changed.

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When you try to get the other employees to wash you are doing the supervisor's job, but you are not the supervisor. Your presumption of authority cancels out the common sense of your request.

You should only take a problem with business methods to the person who sets the business methods, as that is the only person that can take effective action. You don't actually have a problem with the other employees.

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I have been told by some people that sure, it's bad, but it's "not worth losing my job over". I have tried to tell myself that it's not that big of a deal, that it's not really hurting anyone (pizza goes through a 430 degree oven, a fair point made to me by a shift manager. However, the little peppers we put in the boxes to go with the pizza do NOT go through the oven). Coincidentally I am also currently reading Tara Smith's "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics", and am on the chapter about honesty. About how honesty is "not attempting to fake reality in any manner whatsoever." And me telling myself it's no big deal feels like a lie half the time.

If someone asks you whether the other drivers are washing their hands or not, you should either tell the truth, or refuse to answer. (depending on which is in your best interest, and within the requirements of your job) That's honesty.

Why would getting others to wash their hands be a requirement of honesty? Or how exactly are you hurting anyone, because someone else, over whom you have no control, isn't doing their job properly?

I think you're being an altruist, by sacrificing your job for strangers. Your moral obligation is to not hurt people through your actions, not to save them from everything and everyone. If customers don't bother to take the appropriate precautions, it's not your responsibility to take them for them. What you can do, as a benevolent act, is post the fact that this joint has unhygienic practices, after you no longer work there, wherever these things are posted. (and of course, make sure you always wash your hands)

On a side note, I worked as a waiter (at restaurants, not fast food, though), while I was in college, and professional servers , cooks, etc. usually took pride in doing their job properly, and the type of people who would serve someone with dirty hands were a small minority, and very much ostracized by everyone. The working environment you're describing is very unusual, so maybe, when you get a chance, you should take a job some place better.

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My impression of his post was that he often has to deliver the food made by the people who he has seen prepping food without washing their hands.

So, yes, when you are the agent through which the customer receives the potentialy tainted food there is some responsibilty there.

I can't say that responsibility includes losing your job though, especially if as you say, you may not be able to find another soon.

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Do what you think is right, man. If you pride yourself on high quality clean handed pizzas being delivered to your customers, and you're willing to stake your word on it, then tell your manager. If you don't really care, you have no moral obligation to tell anyone.

The trick is to know whether this is something you value or not. If it is, act toward it. If not, leave it alone.~

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I think you're being an altruist, by sacrificing your job for strangers.

I have to disagree. I think he's demonstrating some integrity. He appears to value the customers he is serving, he knows that they are receiving a product that they would otherwise question (or reject) if they knew how it was being handled, and he is troubled by the contrast that results. It is not altruism to be concerned for the customers that patronize the place where you work when you have knowledge that the business is providing a product not of the quality that they can reasonably expect, a product that can potentially cause them illness or death when it otherwise should not be a concern.

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I used to be so positive, working there, too...and I think I could be again, if I just get this one thing changed.

It's unfortunate that you work at a place where the supervisor (apparently) doesn't have the guts or concern to do her job.

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Yes, the trouble is that I am serving to delivery customers some of these pizzas.

@Elysium: what I value is that trust between myself and a customer who is probably assuming we all wash our hands every time we go to handle food.

@Grames: Yeah, I think maybe I screwed up there, what with the assuming a "higher" position. Also just a week before there'd been a bit of a clash, so it was also bad timing. ...I just saw a decent opportunity to say something nicely, so I tried that. Didn't work. And yet since then we've been friendly. I helped him out on a run, finding the right street when the map had faulty information. He got a $5 tip and gave me $3 upon returning. I told him I felt horrible, he said "don't feel horrible, you did right by me, you deserve it." (The reason I felt horrible was because I hadn't said everything I wanted to say to him re: the hand washing...I heard him flush and exit the bathroom, with no space inbetween for washing, and when he said he washes when he goes to the bathroom, I felt like I should've mentioned this. I still haven't.)

@RationalBiker: she's a pragmatist, in almost the full sense of the word. She's a very competent pragmatist at that. Suffice to say she knows very well how to get the job done. I just don't know how much she cares about things we'll never get caught for. And she's not entirely honest, of course.

She had me lie once, at the tail end of a botched up phone call. I was too flustered to refuse at the time, but I went and called the customer a few days later about the miscommunication. I then went to my manager and told her I was not comfortable lying to a customer, that that was something I couldn't do. She was pretty silent, and I certainly felt like I was risking my job. Fast forward a few weeks, she has pissed off another driver (his fault, not hers) and he retaliates by doing a bad job. She tells me "You know, he does this but when he talks to me he acts like everything's alright. At least when you have a problem, you tell me." (Well. I do on occasion, but far from every time I have a problem. She is a hard person to confront. She just has that power.)

Anyway, yeah. Unemployment in my county is around 20 percent. There pretty much aren't any jobs anywhere that I could take, unless I moved...which is not altogether unappealing.

I think I'm going to see if I can find out more information tomorrow, because I thought I heard her saying something to SOMEone about it, but I don't know who or what.

Another factor is that I was just made head closing driver, which is the highest position. A position that I wouldn't want to lose, but it also shows that I'm a valuable employee. So maybe I have more bargaining power. I'm thinking along the lines of saying something like "I feel like I can really improve my performance, but this handwashing thing knocks back my enthusiasm, and even has me doubting whether I should be taking deliveries. If this was taken care of, I'm certain that I could be even better than I've been."

Does that sound too much like I'm trying to control things?

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I work at a Papa John's pizzeria as a delivery driver. ...
Kudos for taking your job seriously, and trying to make it better. In any business, the best employees are the ones who apply their minds to the rightness of the de facto processes and who help improve them.

The wrongs that one sees at work have to be graded, in terms of seriousness. Sometimes a company will be doing something serious enough to report it to the government. At other times one ought to quit. Still other types of ills deserve strident agitation withing the company. And, finally, there are some that bear reporting and forgetting. From what you describe, you've acted responsibly and appropriately, but it is not the type of thing for which I would quit. I think there is a bit of personal evaluation of the facts in such a decision. As a customer, I have no illusions about the habits of the people working at fast-food places. There are some things I do expect them to do, but there are others that I assume some do not do. Also, as a customer, I am also not really scared of any huge consequences. Even when it comes to quitting, there are some things that are severe enough that I would quit immediately, and there are others that would make me start looking for a job so that I can leave at the first opportunity. From the way you describe the situation, and the reaction, I personally would not even be doing the latter.

You already took a step back from doing what everyone does, to thinking about it critically. If I were you, I would use this as an opportunity to take one step further back: to analyze the process and dynamics of organizational change (even at the small scale of a pizza shop). Think through the reactions of the people involved, temporarily giving them the benefit of doubt, and ask why they will not act. Also, consider that they do agree to some extent, verbally and intellectually. So, where is the shortcoming? perhaps though they agree in a rationalistic sense that it is the right thing to do, they actually don't think it is important. Also, step back to try to learn about how such an idea is communicated and accepted (or not). Is there anything you could have done better in terms of convincing people of your side? Do you need to give this time to play out? Will people do what's right if you back off a little and let them absorb the idea? Also, step back and ask: what is the negative that people see to washing? i.e. what de-motivating factor is weighing against their already low motivation to wash? Is there a solution that will address that factor: for instance Purell in a convenient location?

You are closest to the facts, as nobody else can hope to be. So, finally you've got to weigh how serious this really is.

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I think you've done all you are morally obligated to do. You have identified the issue, and reported it to your supervisor. It is now their responsibility to make sure the food is prepared in sanitary conditions, not yours.

You don't need to do any more to be honest. If a customer asks you if their pizza has been made in sanitary conditions you should just refer them to your supervisor, as he is the only one who could be certain of that. Something such as "If you have any questions about the preparation of your pizza, you should refer those questions to my supervisor." If they really wish to inquire, just give them his phone number and let them call.

I think your main problem is that you are not taking in the context of the situation to determine the appropriate action. Truly, this is a minor issue. The chances that one of your co-workers has something that can make the customer sick, and then actually is able to successfully transmit it onto the article of food is quite slim. Based on this negligible chance of making your customers sick I think you've done all you need to do. It's not worth losing your job over.

Now if it was something more serious, like... someone dripped some blood on a pizza, or some rat poison got sprinkled on the pizza instead of Parmesan, then I would say yes, immediate action needs to be taken or you need to leave the company.

Being honest does not mean being honest for other people. It also does not mean martyring yourself for something you're not responsible for. All you can be responsible for is your part of the process. If you continue to clean your hands before preparing food then you've done what you need to do to ensure that you are preparing food up to your own standards. You are not responsible for the entire food making process, your company (and their leaders) are.

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I have to disagree. I think he's demonstrating some integrity. He appears to value the customers he is serving, he knows that they are receiving a product that they would otherwise question (or reject) if they knew how it was being handled, and he is troubled by the contrast that results. It is not altruism to be concerned for the customers that patronize the place where you work when you have knowledge that the business is providing a product not of the quality that they can reasonably expect, a product that can potentially cause them illness or death when it otherwise should not be a concern.

I have two counter arguments.

1. I'm not worried about his integrity, which he has indeed demonstrated he has. I'm worried that he's making a mistake. Accusing him of altruism was wrong, I'm taking that back, he's not an altruist, but I maintain that it's a mistake to think that it's his moral responsibility to get everyone to wash their hands.

2. I don't think the customers can reasonably expect that everyone will wash their hands. Without a Capitalist system in place that would allow customers to make sure, through a specialized service, that hygiene is always taken seriously at establishments in one's area, a customer's best bet is to only deal with places he knows are safe. As I said, there are a lot of places that do hire professionals, who will take pride in their work. I think it would be reasonable to expect such a place to be professional.

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I'm worried that he's making a mistake.

I don't think he's making a mistake. As I said, it's an issue of his personal integrity for him. I think that demonstrating such concern for his fellow traders is perfectly acceptable under Objectivist ethics, not because he has to, but because he chooses to value his customers as more than just his source of income, as people in general who do not deserve to be blindly subjected to this kind of potential health risk.

I don't think the customers can reasonably expect that everyone will wash their hands.

I disagree. Most people who have eaten outside of their own home understand that public eating establishments must conform to Health Department rules. One of those rules concerns the washing of hands while handling food. The expectation is reasonable that establishments will follow these rules, even if sometimes some do not. This has nothing to do with the lack of some imagined perfect Capitalist system missing from the restaurant industry.

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We have, in addition to three sinks (by the makeline, by the ingredient prep area, and in the bathroom), one hand sanitizer dispenser underneath the phone counter. There's no need for me to bring an extra container, if I want to make a show of sanitizing. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to get one for the driver's station, though.

I think all of the employees wash at least occasionally, but I have not paid attention to it until just recently. I agree that the risk of someone transferring something to a customer is almost nil. It's simply that I think customers would expect washing immediately before food handling--and I'm taking deliveries to those customers and being tipped. The fact that they are a source of money, money given directly from them to me, makes it more of an issue for me.

I thank you all for your thoughtful comments. SNerd, I do find it interesting to look at it as an opportunity to learn, and as mentioned before, I certainly didn't go about it the best way given my circumstances, but I think that's partially in hindsight, as I really didn't know how to go about it at the time, and it felt urgent. Maybe I'll be patient for a few shifts and see if change disseminates.

Or, maybe I'll just replace all the peppers on my deliveries..

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When I have been in situations like this at work, I bring it to the supervisor's attention (lately that has been the owner), and see what he has to say about it. If he makes a decision to let it pass as if nothing is wrong, I leave it at that. I might explain it to him again, if the issue comes up, but it is not my job in a non-supervisory position to correct his mistakes. I take care of myself using my own standards, and if the boss has different standards I let him do things his way and I do things my way (which I often think are better). The problem is that there is a lot of pragmatism out there and if they don't get caught they don't care. One guy I worked for was shorting rolls of tape by about five yards (say on a thirty yard roll), and told me to do the same thing. I considered that to be fraud and left as soon as I could. In your situation of telling the boss what was going on, I think you have fulfilled your moral obligations, but I wouldn't quit if I were you unless you could find another job. This recession is killing me even here in the states, in that I lost my las job due to the business closing and even after about two months I can't find another job -- and I've been applying to at least 10-15 jobs per week. You don't need to become self-sacrificial in this regard. Your moral obligation was to talk to the boss and you have done that. Keep up your own sanitary practices and leave the rest to the person running the show, since you cannot afford to leave your job.

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I believe that in any company you work, you can expect somebody not doing his job properly.

It doesn't matter if you work for the police, for a university, for a soccer club, or a restaurant.

ALWAYS, because of human nature, someone will be doing the wrong thing, or not following the process, or cheating in some way, etc.

You will discover it sooner or later.

Consequently, no one can be expected to spend his life jumping from job to job in search of the perfect place. Even if you open your own company, sooner or later you will discover that not all your employees are doing the right thing, and that even your best employees, from time to time, do not follow the process or do not uphold the quality standards.

So the ethical thing to do, as others have already indicated, is

  • Do your job properly: the one that was assigned to you and is under your control and responsibility
  • Inform your supervisor about the poor quality of your colleague's job and let him take responsibility as per his role.
  • If the supervisor doesn't act accordingly, weigh the potential harm for the customers against the potential harm for yourself. Get informed about the real chance for a customer to get diarrhea against your chances to get a better job. Consider all the context. You should protect your customers from a major hazard that you have clearly identified (e.g. an employee with hepatitis A not washing hands after going to the bathroom to defecate), but you should not seek to protect your customer from thousands of minor hazards posed by few employees that do not follow the process now and then. That would take from your so much time, effort and risks that it would entail self-sacrifice, or altruism. You are not the nanny of the customers, the nanny of your fellows, or the nanny of the pizza company.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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  • 2 months later...

This is a pretty long post, an update since the last time I posted.

SNerd, you were right to view this as an opportunity to learn. Well, I've observed for a couple of months. My general manager had said, when I brought it up, that "yes, sanitation is very important" and she had hinted vaguely that she would say something about it, or post something to that effect. I have seen no evidence that she actually discussed it with anyone, and I know she hasn't posted anything. The more important revelation is that since I brought it up, I have not seen her once wash her hands. And I have seen her cough into her left hand on many occasions. I believe I have also seen, out of the corner of my eye, her coughing into open air directly over the makeline.

It has been hard for me to see this--hard not to evade it--and I think that if I opened my mind and paid closer attention I would see more direct evidence. The reason it is so difficult is that she is not only a natural leader, but a scary person to try to disagree with. And I'm scared that if I get on her bad side, she'll give me horrible reviews whenever I try to get another job. Though I suppose I could point to the undeniable fact that within a year, I went from being a small part-time opening driver who had never been in the business, to being the head closing driver, the highest driving position in the store. Whatever else she would say about me, I HOPE that fact would speak for itself.

(Side note, she's been promoted, she's actually the area supervisor for three stores now, but we don't technically have a "general manager" so she fills that role as well. I see her less often, usually just once a week for a couple of hours.)

Melissa, the shift manager I have the most contact with, has actually started washing her hands when she realizes she ought to, but I think this is mostly because outside of our disagreements, we get along very well, and are actually pretty close friends in some ways. I hate to turn all Peter Keating, but it seems that when a person likes you or wants you to like them, it's easier to get them to do the right thing. ...Though she still doesn't ask other people to wash their hands, either because she doesn't notice, or is afraid to. Just on my last shift, a driver came in off a run and went straight to the makeline without washing, and she didn't seem to notice or care. She did, however, "bug out" when she thought she saw someone overusing product, which brings me to the best conclusion I can come up with based on the facts.

It is the general manager of the store who sets the tone for what things are considered "little" or "big" deals. I know that she "puts the fear into" shift managers to keep food costs equal to or under the expected amount--which often results in those managers skimping--but she apparently does not do anything of the sort for handwashing or general sanitation. And she seems to care a lot more about things we get caught for than things we don't.

Because she sets the tone, if my general manager actually cared about hand sanitation, so would everyone else in the store, almost by default. I think she just said "yes it's very important" in order to pacify me, as I know she is capable of lying to "make it better for a while" (since she's told me to do the same). I recently asked her if she could cough into her arm when she has to cough, but I did it in a very non-confident, cute, cowardly manner, and I think it didn't take. She said "sure", but I think it's possible she did that because she knows I'm not standing behind my words (as I think I ought to, if I speak).

My options right now are to 1. talk to her in person about it again, but in a more direct and factual manner, 2. express my thoughts in writing, 3. go to the next level up to express my concern, or 4. to just ignore it. First I have to open my mind more, though, and see the truth for what it is without fear, and that seems very difficult. If I solidly see her cough into her hand and then go straight to the makeline, I believe that obligates me to say something to someone about it. I think that's probably why I haven't paid close enough attention to see such a thing, yet. But I feel like it's eating away at me, anyway. Part of me wants to have the courage to do what I think is right and confront her openly about it, and risk losing my job, knowing that I'll have my self-confidence when I leave (and I've kind of wanted to move on anyway). The other part of me doesn't want to lose my job and is scared, not only of being unable to find another, but scared of some other form of retribution from my manager if I anger her. She's dating a guy who is very large and just scares me in general as to what he's capable of in terms of violence and dishonesty, based on what his daughter has told me. (This daughter is actually Melissa, the aforementioned shift manager. There's a pretty big family connection contingent in the three stores of our area, which gives me a bit of a creepy Mafia feeling.)

Any thoughts are welcome and requested; I thank anyone who cared to read this far!

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This is my take as someone who's been in food service 24+ years and now owns my own shop:

This is not a situation that can resolve well for you.

You are not making enough money to merit the amount of stress & time spent not on the clock thinking about these issues.

You are correct to be appalled. You are also correct to think about your rational self interest first.

You have tried to vocalise your concerns and no one is interested apparently in correcting the issue.

If you push further you will be fired and most likely recieve a bad reference when you try to get a new job.

Continue to work while doing your own job in a way you can be proud of and seeking new employment.

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I've been in the food industry all my life and the things people do and get away with is incredible. Improper washing of hands is one of the greatest contributing factors in making customers sick. Its such a simple task. Turn on water, lather, rinse. Too complicated?

Heres a good one for ya,... My last boss owned a food cart, that served po' boys and jambalya... So he has this big flat steel top griddles that get really hot, especially in a tiny food cart. When he leaves work one night, he accidentaly turns the knob on the grill all the way on high. By the time the morning guy came in, it was 136 degrees in the cart! All of my bosses spices for the food, are in those plastic containers, and directly out in the open. Well because of the heat, they all got warped and melted, not completly, but enough. When you opened the containers to smell the contents, it stunk like rubber and whatever herb/spice. So the morning worker tells my old boss that they need to be replaced considering they just spent 10hrs melting in toxic plastic. So my boss, says, "We don't have the money right now, we'll just have to rough it out and make due." :confused: I told him if I spilled bleach in the jambalya, should we just "make due" since its to much to throw it out? It was then that the spirit of william james came upon him and he said, "But thats different", lol.

If I was you, I would complain regardless of what those other losers thought, and if no changes are made in your vacinity, change vacinities. I suppose if hand washing is such a monumentous task to these people, making a pizza with more than one topping has to be exhausting, so hopefully their duration is a short one.

Don't quit though till you have a better job. Dont want to risk any financial problems. Stack yo paper son, lol. :confused:

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I work at a Papa John's pizzeria as a delivery driver. In addition to delivering, we are required to help make pizzas, pull from the oven and cut/put the sides in the boxes, take phone calls, and pretty much anything else that needs done.

Recently I have noticed that not all of the drivers wash their hands after returning from a run, before they go to help make pizza. Nor do all the managers wash their hands after coming back inside the building after going for a smoke break or some such. It turns out this bugs me quite a bit. I feel like I am deceiving the customers I bring pizzas to, because I assume that customers would expect someone who has left the building would wash hands before touching food again.

I have been told by some people that sure, it's bad, but it's "not worth losing my job over". I have tried to tell myself that it's not that big of a deal, that it's not really hurting anyone (pizza goes through a 430 degree oven, a fair point made to me by a shift manager. However, the little peppers we put in the boxes to go with the pizza do NOT go through the oven). Coincidentally I am also currently reading Tara Smith's "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics", and am on the chapter about honesty. About how honesty is "not attempting to fake reality in any manner whatsoever." And me telling myself it's no big deal feels like a lie half the time.

I am considering telling my boss that I can't ignore it, I can't act like it's no big deal, and I might have to leave, unless everyone starts washing their hands. Which is unfortunate because there are basically no other jobs out there in my city/county, but there you have it.

So I ask you, as customers, would it bother you to know that a driver wasn't washing hands after coming back from a run? Is there any pertinent information I am missing?

Lol. you almost made me spit my orange juice.

You are taking responsibility for something you are not responsible for. All you should do is tell whoever is in charge that people are not washing their hands. Beyond that there is nothing you can do and it is not your job - you are not paid to make sure people wash their hands. Costumers ordering the pizza have no idea if their pizzas have been touched by unwashed hands - they order it anyway based on past experience (obviously, good). The product is still good and relatively safe - you are not helping to harm anyone. The story would be different if you saw employees secretly pee on orders (lol), or if you were the boss responsible for the quality of products.

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The story would be different if you saw employees secretly pee on orders (lol), or if you were the boss responsible for the quality of products.

Isn't pee sterile? haha sorry.

But yeah man, I'm sure you have probably thought of everything (or else posted here), but when delivering it, tell the customers that the cooks may not have washed their hands. And if they don't like that fact, they wont order from there again (just make sure you don't get in trouble for doing that). Not responsible for the quality of products--->don't stress. If the customers actually do get sick because the cooks weren't washing their hands (or peeing on the dang thing), the fault will be on them.

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