Starbucks workers in Seattle claim that dangerous needle pokes and HIV-prevention drugs have become a routine part of working at the coffee giant

Starbucks workers say that finding needles in bathrooms has become an almost daily routine. KIRO 7
  • Starbucks workers in Seattle say that they encounter hypodermic needles nearly every day at the chain and that the problem has grown worse under the chain’s new open-bathroom policy.
  • Three Starbucks workers told the local news station KIRO 7 that they had to take antiviral medications to protect themselves from HIV and hepatitis after they were poked by hypodermic needles while working at a Seattle-area Starbucks.
  • Starbucks confirmed that at least two Seattle-area employees had been poked by hypodermic needles. The chain said it was working on how to best address the problem amid an opioid crisis sweeping the United States.

Several Starbucks workers in Seattle say that they’re encountering hypodermic needles on the job nearly every day and that they have had to take antiviral medications to protect themselves from HIV and hepatitis.

Three employees at the coffee giant in northern Seattle told the local news station KIRO 7 that visitors would dispose of the needles in store restrooms, often in tampon-disposal boxes, and that workers would then come in contact with them while cleaning and were sometimes accidentally poked.

KIRO 7 said the three employees provided hospital, pharmacy, and insurance receipts showing that they took antiviral medications to protect against HIV and hepatitis after being poked by needles at work.

According to the baristas, the problem has gotten worse since Starbucks earlier this year changed its policy to open its bathrooms to everyone, including people who aren’t making any purchases.

“Because you don’t have to bother with purchasing anything, needles have definitely increased,” one employee told KIRO 7.

Starbucks needles
Starbucks workers provided KIRO 7 photos of the cleanup and lists showing how often needles were found. KIRO 7

A Starbucks representative, Reggie Borges, confirmed that at least two baristas in the Seattle area had been poked by hypodermic needles.

Borges told Business Insider that employees were trained on how to safely deal with hypodermic needles and that any employee who feels unsafe performing a task is encouraged to speak with their manager and will not be made to preform the action. He added that the company was looking at how to best address safety concerns and that workers who speak out about risks would not be punished; Starbucks, Borges said, wants employees to provide feedback.

“The drug abuse crisis in Seattle impacts every company and we urge city officials to work with employers to make our public places safe for everyone,” Borges said.

Chains across the US are grappling with how to deal with the impact of the opioid epidemic. New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research found last year that almost 60% of managers had come in contact with drug use in their businesses’ public bathrooms, City Lab reported last month.

Starbucks is in a unique position because, unlike many other chains, its bathrooms are not only for paying customers. In May, Starbucks announced plans to open up its bathrooms to everyone, sparking some concerns about whether doing so could make the stores less safe.

Borges said that while Starbucks does not force customers who haven’t paid to leave stores, the company has some expectations for visitors; drug use, drinking, and disruptive behaviour are still banned at stores.

“We expect our customers to behave in a certain way,” Borges said.

If you’re a Starbucks worker, we want to hear your thoughts on the open-bathroom policy. Email [email protected] to share your perspective.