Demerits For Walmart’s Sick Leave Policy

I’ve written before about Why I Really Don’t Do Walmart (and many people commented). Here’s another reason: poor sick leave policy.

Walmart’s come under fire from the National Labor Committee (a nonprofit organization supporting human and worker rights) for penalizing workers, possibly to the point of termination, for staying home sick. Here’s the scoop from their website:

Wal-Mart has a punitive point (demerit) system that punishes workers who cannot come to work because they are ill or their children need care.  Associates who miss a day due to sickness (or for any other reason) will receive a one point demerit, along with the loss of eight hours wages.  Moreover, employees who “have more than three absence occurrences in a rolling six-month period…will be disciplined.”  (“Attendance/Punctuality Policy (PD-52) New York,” January 2008.)  Workers with four absences in any six-month period—no matter what the reason—will be disciplined.  A fifth occurrence—like a sick day—will result in “active coaching” by management, and a sixth occurrence” will activate a “Decision Day,” when an “associate” can either be terminated or put on a year-long trial period, during which a worker can be fired for any infraction, no matter how insignificant.  During this year-long probation the worker cannot receive a promotion.

One of Walmart’s aims, of course, is to prevent excessive absences. But employees still receive demerits, even if they are legitimately ill, and even with a doctor’s note.

And as far as paid sick leave goes, if an employee does have sick leave available, they can’t even use it for the first day of absence. Employees simply lose a day’s pay if they are absent for one day. If they’re absent for more than one day, and they have sick leave accumulated, they can get paid only from the second day on.

This doesn’t square at all with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation (specifically for the H1N1 flu) that sick people stay home until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours, so as not to infect others. Walmart’s policies discourage people from staying home. is currently campaigning against Walmart’s sick leave policy. This is an issue of special interest to mothers, since they’re usually the ones who have to stay home with sick kids (also cause for a demerit in the Walmart system). But anyone can help – go to the campaign page and give Walmart a demerit badge! Let them know that their policies are not OK.

And yes, I know that Walmart is only one employer of many. There are other companies that provide little or no sick leave, or who punish employees for being absent.  And there are small businesses that have great difficulty dealing with employee absences (but that’s another issue, really). But if we can get a giant like Walmart (which employs about 1.4 million people in the U.S.) to change, it’s likely to influence other companies as well.