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Burger King gave candy to a worker who never called in sick. The internet gave $400K

Kevin Ford attributes his work ethic to his father who worked in the Air Force, as well as his mother who raised him and his six siblings.
Kevin Ford
Kevin Ford attributes his work ethic to his father who worked in the Air Force, as well as his mother who raised him and his six siblings.

Burger King cook and cashier Kevin Ford was happy to receive a small goody bag from management as a reward for never calling in sick. But people on the internet were less thrilled. They believed Ford deserved more — over $400,000 more.

Ford's video of him unboxing his goody bag at Burger King was shared countless times on social media.
/ Kevin Ford
/
Kevin Ford
Ford's video of him unboxing his goody bag at Burger King was shared countless times on social media.

Last May, Ford was given a coffee cup, a movie ticket, some candy and few other small items for working over 20 years at Burger King without ever using a sick day, meaning he never took time off unexpectedly.

"I was happy to get this because I know not everyone gets something," said Ford, who works at the Burger King in Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas.

Ford, a big believer in appreciating small gestures in life, showed off the goody bag on TikTok. The video went viral, partly because people were outraged on his behalf.

While many on social media said they respected Ford's work ethic and positive attitude, they also argued that he deserved more than a bag of treats for prioritizing his job over his health.

That led his daughter, Seryna, to start a GoFundMe campaign last June in hopes of raising some money for her father to visit his grandchildren in Texas.

She set the goal to $200. Over the next year, the campaigned amassed over $400,000 in donations, while people flooded Ford's inbox with messages of how he reminded them of their own father, brother or friend.

"I think they just wanted to show my employer and other CEOs that people deserve to be congratulated, rewarded, even just acknowledged for their hard work and dedication," he said.

Like Ford, many restaurant workers don't get paid sick leave

As a single father with four daughters, Ford never took sick days because frankly, he couldn't afford to. Ford's job — like more than half of restaurant and accommodation jobs as of 2020 — does not offer paid sick leave, meaning workers typically do not get paid for missing work due to illness unless they dip into their paid vacation time.

Ford said he only ever missed work for medical reasons twice in his Burger King career — once for a surgery related to his sleep apnea, another for a spine procedure caused by working long hours on his feet. Even then, he used his vacation days to take that time off.

"I'd be laying down in front of the fryers because I was in so much pain and people would tell me to go home, but I was thinking about the power bill or the water bill," Ford added.

Ford received full custody of his daughters because their mother did not have a job that provided family health insurance.
/ Kevin Ford
/
Kevin Ford
Ford received full custody of his daughters because their mother did not have a job that provided family health insurance.

Ford is not alone. Across the country, many workers make the difficult choice between taking unpaid time off or muscling through their shift when they're sick. That issue magnified over the pandemic, as people quit their jobs in droves due to a lack of paid sick leave.

A Burger King spokesperson told NPR, "Decisions regarding employee benefits are made at the sole discretion of its individual franchisees including the franchise group that employs Kevin Ford."

Ford had deep regrets about how often he worked

Despite the overwhelming support on social media, Ford has been using his new platform to warn people: "Don't be like me."

His job was not worth the heavy toll on his body and mental health, he said. It was also difficult for his four daughters, who often saw Ford come home from work after 10 p.m.

Ford said he learned that lesson the hard way.

Before he went viral on social media, Ford said he was at the lowest point of his life. He was dealing with a divorce, the deaths of his parents and the departure of his children, who had grown up and moved away. After work, Ford would drive for hours around his neighborhood reflecting on his life and what he would have done differently.

"There was nothing but work in my life," Ford said. "Looking back, what was it all for? Why I was not missing days that I could've spent with my kids and my wife?"

That's why Ford has described the fundraiser as a second chance. Not only does he have enough money for his retirement and to help pay for his grandchildren's college educations, but he can also afford to take days off work and make up for lost time with his children.

He plans to keep working at Burger King, largely because he likes his co-workers.

"That's also my family there. We're fun and funny," he said. "When it's not like that, then I guess I'll retire."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 21, 2023 at 9:00 PM PDT
An early version of this story had an incorrect number for the size of Ford's family. He has four daughters.
Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.