‘If that disease is anywhere, it’s in that cash drawer’: Workers are begging customers not to pay in cash at fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks

Fast-food workers are worried handling cash could put them at risk of catching the coronavirus. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

As fast-food chains remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, customers paying in cash is worrying some workers.

Workers at McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ reached out to Business Insider this week to express worries about handling cash the could spread coronavirus.

“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.

Niki and the more than a dozen other fast-food workers who spoke to Business Insider this week were granted anonymity, or allowed to only use their first name, in order to speak frankly about working through the coronavirus outbreak. Business Insider verified that each employee works for the chain they claimed.

Niki said she and coworkers have taken to dipping their hands in a cup of hand sanitizer they have by the counter, in an attempt to avoid contact with any contaminated cash. But, with some drive-thrus getting busier as people try to self-isolate and seating areas shut down, it is difficult to speedily sanitize between customers.

Workers worry they could be spreading coronavirus

Drive thru

Workers also expressed fears that they could spread the coronavirus in their local communities.

“Let’s just say one of my employees working the drive-thru window is wearing gloves, touches money, then hands the guest their coffee,” said Ryan, a Dunkin’ manager. The “next guest pulls up and is now threatened by what that glove may have contracted from the guest before.”

Ryan says there aren’t enough gloves being provided to his workers. “It’s so hard and concerning.”

A Dunkin’ representative said in a statement that the chain’s top priority is the safety and well-being of customers, employees, franchisees, and communities it serves. The representative noted that the chain has limited service nationwide to drive-thru, carry-out, and delivery, and that franchisees may choose to temporarily close stores or reduce hours.

“As a 100% franchised system, Dunkin’ franchisees live and work in the communities they serve and independently own and operate their restaurants,” Dunkin’ said in the statement. “They are fully responsible for their own restaurant employees and have told us they are doing their best to take care of those who may be impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19). We believe that the majority of our franchisees offer sick pay benefits. Franchisees are also telling their employees who feel ill to stay home, and our food safety standards prohibit working when ill.”

Some chains, such as Starbucks, have begun offering employees gloves as an option to make them feel safer at work. Others, such as McDonald’s, discourage most employees from wearing gloves.

“Under current guidance, the CDC does not state that wearing disposable gloves is necessary or recommended to protect individuals working in restaurants from COVID-19,” McDonald’s states in an internal document obtained by Business Insider. “Employees should regularly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (60% or higher) when soap and water are not available.”

A McDonald’s representative noted that if any employees were instructed to wear gloves or a surgical mask by a doctor, they would be allowed to do so.

McDonald’s, Starbucks, and most other national chains have shut down indoor seating areas, instead focusing on drive-thru, delivery, and to-go, as well as upping cleaning efforts and rolling out new paid sick leave policies. At McDonald’s, the new policies seem to be creating concrete change – soap usage in McDonald’s store is already far higher than it was even a month before.

The World Health Organisation said cash could be spreading coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A test tube labelled with the coronavirus is placed on U.S. dollar banknotes, in this illustration taken on March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
FILE PHOTO: Picture illustration of a test tube labelled with the coronavirus placed on U.S. dollar banknotes Reuters

Employees’ concerns about handling cash are not unwarranted.The World Health Organisation 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.”

Chains seem unlikely to ban cash, as it could prevent people who do not have bank accounts from buying cheap, ready-made-food at a time when restaurants are closing across the US. However, employees are asking that, if customers can avoid using cash, it would be far preferable if they pay by card – or, even better, mobile payment.

“I wish my customers knew that we are putting ourselves at risk to serve them a cup of coffee and that many of us are scared and dreading going into work each day during this pandemic,” an employee at a Starbucks located inside a Target said.

“I also wish they would stop paying us in cash and apologizing that we have to work while simultaneously being the reason we have to go to work,” she continued. “I love my customers and have previously loved my job but working now during this pandemic it has shown that many companies prefer profit over well being.”

Read more about how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting fast-food workers: