PITTSBURGH, Nov. 3 Punishing workers for taking sick leave puts Wal-Mart on track to be a major spreader of Swine Flu this fall, according to a new report by the National Labor Committee. The retail giant gives workers demerits and deducts pay for staying home when they are sick or to care for sick children.
In interviews with Wal-Mart "associates" at stores across New York State, workers confirmed that they had no choice but to work sick. One Wal-Mart employee from a supercenter explained: "Plenty of girls are coughing their brains out, but they can't go home because of points. Everyone comes in sick." Workers -- including food handlers and deli workers -- are routinely coming to work with the flu, conjunctivitis, fevers, strep throat and vomiting.
Single mothers working at Wal-Mart are really hurting. In September, an associate received a call from her four-year-old's preschool telling her to pick up her child, who had a fever of 103. For leaving work she received a point [demerit] and lost her wages. "Parents are loading their children up with Motrin and Dimetapp to mask their symptoms and sending them to school--for fear of being fired if they stay home with their sick child instead of showing up for their shift," comments Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee.
Ken Senser, a senior vice-president for Wal-Mart, distributed a memo on "Flu Season Preparation" to Wal-Mart stores in October advising employees to "have back-up childcare plans in the event your child cannot attend school." He went on to recommend that associates "familiarize yourself with relevant company policies including those for attendance, sick pay and return to work following an illness."
But Wal-Mart's policies are the problem. Under Wal-Mart's "Point System" a sick day results in one point and also the loss of eight hours' wages, even if the worker brings a doctor's note and has accumulated sick leave. In any six-month period, if a worker accumulates five or six points, they can be fired.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that employers "Ensure that your leave policies are flexible and non-punitive." Further, employers should, "Be prepared to allow workers to stay home to care for children if schools are dismissed or childcare programs are closed."
The U.S. Department of Labor recommends: "Workers who are ill with pandemic influenza or have a family member with influenza are urged to stay home to minimize the spread of the pandemic. Employers are encouraged to support these and other community mitigation strategies and should consider flexible leave policies for their employees."
According to Kernaghan, "With its punitive policies against sick days and by ignoring CDC recommendations, Wal-Mart is not only putting its 1.4 million workers at risk, but could contribute to the spread of swine flu and other illnesses to the over 150 million customers Wal-Mart services each week."
The NLC is challenging Wal-Mart to immediately end its punitive Point System for sick days and to allow its employees to use the sick pay they have built up rather than automatically deducting the first eight hours of sick time from the workers' wages.
Every Wal-Mart employee we spoke with was terrified that they would lose their job if their name and store were mentioned.
Wal-Mart "Flu Season Preparation" memo
Wal-Mart Attendance/Punctuality policy
Wal-Mart Sick pay policy
Excerpts from CDC 2010 Employer Guidelines on Influenza
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SOURCE National Labor Committee