- Walmart has created a "COVID-19 emergency leave policy" in response to the novel coronavirus, according to a March 10 email the company sent to its U.S. associates and shared with sister publication HR Dive.
- Effective immediately, Walmart associates can take this leave under certain circumstances. If workers think they are "unable to work or are uncomfortable at work," they may stay home. Walmart will waive its attendance policy through the end of April. To be paid for this time, workers will need to use paid time off options. If a Walmart facility or associate undergoes quarantine, the store will pay out two weeks of pay and waive the absences during that time. "We've chosen two weeks because it matches the recommended time for quarantines related to this virus," the email said. Finally, if workers contract the virus, they will get up to two weeks of pay. If they cannot return to work after two weeks, "additional pay replacement may be provided for up to 26 weeks."
- The program's announcement followed the news that a Walmart worker in a Cynthiana, Kentucky, store tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2. With more cases likely to occur, the company said, the store will be taking "precautions and actions to keep [its] stores, clubs and other facilities clean and ensure the well-being of [its] associates, customers and members."
As the news surrounding the spread of SARS-CoV-2 evolves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leaders in public health have urged employers to prepare remote work options. For employers like Walmart, this is largely an impossibility. Many employers in the retail, grocery and restaurant spaces have turned to paid leave instead.
Outbreaks have prompted several visible businesses to amend their sick leave policies. Darden, parent company of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, added paid sick leave for the 180,000 hourly workers who did not yet have it. Trader Joe's enacted a similar policy. Workers at McDonald's corporate stores will receive two weeks of paid leave if they are quarantined.
Commentators have been quick to criticize employers' lack of paid sick leave, pointing out the risk this creates for both workers and consumers. Some have also condemned the U.S. for its failure to enact legislation mandating paid sick leave. Congressional Democrats introduced a bill March 6 that would require employers to offer 14 additional days of paid sick leave to employees. Seventy-three percent of U.S. workers are eligible for paid sick leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.