Employees at Walmart are claiming that the company has been repeatedly violating worker protection law — reportedly refusing doctors’ notes from employees and sanctioning those who have taken time off for taking care of sick family. A Better Balance, a lawyer-driven organization that advocates for workers’ rights, interviewed Walmart employees and surveyed over 1,000 current and former employees to examine how the company’s “absence control program” violated workers’ rights. The organization released their findings in a report called Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences.
“Many Walmart workers, who are struggling to get by on Walmart hours and wages, live in fear that they are only one sick child or emergency room trip away from losing their job,” the report said, pointing out that workers with illnesses, disabilities, pregnancy-related conditions, injuries, and family health issues are most at risk. The report revealed that the company apparently has many different policies when it comes to attendance, many of which are unclear to employees.
Mainly, the employees’ performance and discipline are regulated by a point system. Points are given for various infractions, ranging from talking back to a supervisor, going on long breaks, working slowly, absences, and tardiness. When it comes to attendance, an unauthorized absence means working less than half of a scheduled shift. This earns an employee one full point. Showing up late earns half a point. If an employee does not call to report an absence at least one hour in advance, they earn four points. Even calling 45 minutes before a shift merits four points — which leads to termination for workers who have been with the company for less than six months. Employees who have worked at the company for longer are terminated at the nine point mark within a six-month period.
Worryingly, 84.5 percent of respondents who participated in the report agreed that Walmart has a problem of regularly punishing those who have absences due to a disability or serious illness. They also reported being told multiple times by managers that “there is no such thing as an excused absence.”
The report included testimonials from current and former employees, many of which reveal a consistent fear among workers that getting necessary medical attention or taking care of their sick loved ones may lead to them getting fired.
“My blood pressure peaked out at 194/99 and I nearly passed out. After close monitoring by pharmacy staff it finally came down enough for me to call someone to come pick me up and take me home. I was given half a point for leaving early. I was told nothing could be done. It was policy,” one employee shared in the report.
“My daughter was having seizures, I had to take time off to monitor her. They counted it against me…I passed out at work. They sent me to the hospital. The next day, they fired me for it. Walmart is a joke. People have lives outside of work, we get sick, we have children, things happen and Walmart literally covers NOTHING,” another employee said.
The report pointed out that these incidents are in violation of several laws, especially the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which recognizes that there are instances when someone cannot work due to their own or a family member’s medical issues.
The picture painted by Walmart’s disgruntled employees is contrary to what the company itself said on their website, where the list of benefits include free access to nurse care managers and health care advisers, medical and dental plans, as well as health reimbursement plans from $500 to $1,000.
According to the report, Walmart counts 2.3 million employees all over the world, and had total revenues of nearly $486 billion in the recent fiscal year alone. In the United States, the company has 1.5 million associates across 5,332 stores, making them the biggest private employer in the country. Out of that 1.5 million, over 300,000 have been with the company for 10 years or more, according to Walmart. They also said that over 75 percent of their store management teams earn between $50,000 to $170,000 annually “similar to what firefighters, accountants, and even doctors make.”
The report urged that Walmart create a change in policy and ensure that they follow the laws that protect their workers. “All workers at Walmart should feel that they are able to work in a safe environment where disability-related reasonable accommodations, including those for pregnancy, are made and respected. Implementing these changes would help support employees and their families,”the report said.
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