Walmart employees accuse company of penalizing them for taking sick days
- A workers’ advocacy group filed a lawsuit against Walmart for punishing workers who need to take time off to care for family members, The New York Times reports. The group, named A Better Balance, issued a report accusing the retail giant of routinely refusing employees' notes from doctors and generally punishing them for legal absences. The report is based on a survey of 1,000 employees.
- The report claimed Walmart is violating worker protection laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A Better Balance argued its claim in the lawsuit, filed last month. In an earlier complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it accused Wal-Mart of discriminating against pregnant workers.
- Walmart told the Times it disputes the group's claims, but said it hadn't reviewed the report. It also claims that its attendance policies ensure that there are enough staff to serve customers while protecting workers who regularly cover for coworkers.
The report comes just days after the retailer was accused of discriminating against pregnant workers and nursing mothers. Plaintiffs in that case, which could eventually include 50,000 female workers, claim Walmart refused to give pregnant workers the same accommodations as other disabled workers, as the law requires. If true, that could indicate some serious ADA and Pregnancy Discrimination Act compliance issues.
A Walmart spokesperson told the Times that the company understands workers' needs for occasional time off. In either case, the allegations are indicative of how much the issue of sick leave has grown in recent years. A previous report from the Times estimated that 1.5 million Americans go to work sick each week, most of whom lack paid sick leave benefits. Walmart rival Amazon reportedly paid German workers not to use their sick leave days.
Most Walmart employees are hourly, frontline, low-wage earners, who don't have the flexibility and privileges of salaried workers and who can least afford to take time off for family obligations. Employers must keep in mind the privileges some workers have over others when setting and enforcing workplace policies.
Walmart’s absence-control policy keeps track of employees' time off work and operates on a "three strikes" model, employees say. It's little wonder workers find this kind of "short leash" tracking intimidating. Employers would do well to avoid practices like these that create mistrust instead of fostering engagement.