Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences
A new report
says that Walmart unfairly punishes its employees for reasonable absences in potential violation of federal and local laws. According to the report, the absences are often "... due to caring for sick or disabled family members and for needing to take time off for their own illnesses or disabilities. ... It punishes workers for things they cannot control and disproportionately harms the most vulnerable workers."
Of concern here is not just the moral hypocrisy of "family friendly" Walmart punishing its employees for attending to the dire needs of their kin (and themselves), but that, according to the report, "Walmart may regularly be violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)." Oh, and it may also be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because Walmart is handing out disciplinary action even when workers come provide doctor's notes or miss work because of a disability.
The testimonials the report provides are damning.
, a pregnant woman who worked at a Walmart in Washington D.C., describes her experience of being "doubled over in pain" during her shift. She decided to "work through the pain" rather than risk being disciplined by family friendly Walmart. (According to a New York Times'
review of Walmart's absence policy, "Walmart assigns disciplinary points for unexcused absences and other infractions. Nine points in a six-month period can result in an employee’s being fired ... .
New employees may be fired for accruing four points in their first six months.")
Between the hospital, a follow-up emergency ultrasound, and a doctor’s order to rest, I was out of work for the next two days. I followed the proper call out procedure and told a manager that I would be out. I also wanted to make sure Walmart wouldn’t be short-staffed, so I told a manager that I had arranged for one of my co-workers to substitute for me if that would be helpful, but they never followed up with him. I was given points for those two absences. I got a disciplinary coaching for attendance because I missed those two days, and I told my manager that wasn’t fair because the two days were because of a medical emergency related to my pregnancy. I tried to hand in paperwork showing that I had been at the hospital and a letter from my doctor explaining the pregnancy complications I was having, but my manager refused to take them. I asked that she not hold those days against me, but she said there was nothing she could do, that they were unauthorized absences.
Two of the reported abuses are from Arkansas. One is a woman in Mountain Home named Sherry.
I have worked at Walmart in Mountain Home, Arkansas since 2008. In February 2016, I developed sciatica in both my legs. On a few occasions, the pain would be so severe that I needed to stay home from work. I was out four times between February and April and received a point each time I was out.
In April, I went to speak to my manager because I noticed she had begun to significantly cut my hours. I was also afraid that I’d rack up too many points due to my condition and get fired. I informed her that I was able to work but just had to occasionally take a day off due to the pain. She told me that I should take a leave of absence. I cried and told her I needed to pay my bills and did not want to be pushed out onto leave.
Only after I spoke to another co-worker at Walmart did I learn that I could apply for FMLA leave and use it on an intermittent basis so that I could stay on the job but take days off when the sciatica flared up. If it had not been for that chance conversation with my co-worker, I might be out of a job. Even though I am now on FMLA, I also never got those four points back.
And one from Hannah (which is a pseudonym for a worker that wished to remain anonymous).
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 a half a point for leaving early. I was told nothing could be done. It was policy.
The New York Times
has a statement from a Walmart spokesperson.
Walmart said that it had not reviewed the report but disputed the group’s conclusions, and said that the company's attendance policies helped make sure that there were enough employees to help customers while protecting workers from regularly covering others’ duties.
“We understand that associates may have to miss work on occasion, and we have processes in place to assist them,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, said. The company reviews each employee’s circumstances individually, he said, “in compliance with company policy and the law.”
The organization behind the report, A Better Balance, is also seeking legal action against Walmart for discriminating against pregnant workers