Hen of the Wood Clarifies Its COVID-19 Message After Leaked Email Sparks Uproar | Food News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Hen of the Wood Clarifies Its COVID-19 Message After Leaked Email Sparks Uproar


Published November 10, 2021 at 7:51 p.m.

Hen of the Wood-Burlington in 2018 - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Hen of the Wood-Burlington in 2018
The Vermont Department of Health has received seven complaints about Hen of the Wood-Burlington following the posting on social media earlier this week of an internal email that concerns employees working when sick, according to department spokesperson Ben Truman.

The email, written by the restaurant’s general manager, said in part: “If you feel sick with a cold and do not have coverage for your shift, you are expected to show up for work.”

The email went on to suggest that, in an effort to protect coworkers, “it might be better to wear a mask if you are contageous [sic] so others don’t get sick.”

Truman said the email “is not a violation of the food service regulations.” But it is counter to the department’s guidance.

“If you’re sick, or you think you’re sick, we’re asking people to stay home and stop spreading germs,” Truman said. “That’s how you keep flus from spreading, that’s how you keep colds from spreading.” And that's how you help to keep COVID-19 from spreading, he added.
Screenshot of Hen of the Wood email posted to Reddit - SALLY POLLAK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sally Pollak ©️ Seven Days
  • Screenshot of Hen of the Wood email posted to Reddit
Eric Warnstedt, co-owner of Hen of the Wood, wrote in an email statement that the “internal communication … was shared in haste and inaccurately represented our stance on COVID safety.

“The communication in question was incorrect and incomplete about when to stay home with seasonal cold symptoms and our expectations of safely working through lesser symptoms,” the email from Warnstedt reads. “People show up to work with sniffles regularly and deciding to work or not is not always easy. This communication was about how to work and live in the time of COVID."

Truman noted that “'Sniffles' is not a term we use in our guidance."

The department has been in communication with Warnstedt about the public's concerns, and to ensure the restaurant understands the public health guidance, Truman said.

He acknowledged that "it's definitely a squishy area in terms of guidance and recommendations, where you’re overlapping food service regulations with various COVID restrictions and guidance."

But the department encouraged the restaurant to tell employees to stay home, even with mild symptoms.

"COVID-19 is frequently associated with mild symptoms, particularly for fully vaccinated individuals, so we recommend people experiencing abnormal symptoms, even if mild, seek testing for COVID-19 and isolate from others while their specimen is pending," the department guidance continued. "If the result is negative, they should return to work after symptoms improve.”

Truman said he appreciated the detailed clarification Warnstedt sent to his staff regarding the company's COVID-19 policies.

In that follow-up email, Warnstedt wrote: “To be clear we do not expect anyone to work a shift if they show current symptoms of COVID-19.”

The email includes eight bulleted points, ranging from the value of vaccines to encouraging staffers to get a booster shot.

“We continue to make decisions with sensitivity and commitment to keep our businesses open so we can provide good work, income, and sustainability for our staff members,” Warnstedt wrote.

Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, wrote in an email to Seven Days that if "someone is definitely COVID test-negative, and they have subtle sniffles, it’s not the end of the world for them to work in a mask and attention to hygiene." He pointed out the impact that lost wages can have on a restaurant worker.

But he went on to note that "it is unsafe to work in a public space with COVID symptoms, untested. It risks an outbreak.”

He called Hen of the Wood “an institution I revere and want to see thrive.” As a means to show that the restaurant cares about “employee and patron safety,” Lahey suggested the very measure that Hen of the Wood has taken: a clarifying message about its COVID-19 precautions and guidance.

Lahey recommends that no one with COVID-like symptoms should go to work unless they have tested negative. “And even then only if it’s unavoidable.”

In a text to Seven Days, Warnstedt wrote: “Everyone’s doing their best.”