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Lives Cost from Meager Paid Sick Leave at Walmart

New Study: Paid Sick Leave Policy at Walmart Could Have Prevented 7,618 COVID-19 Cases and Saved Over 100 Associate Lives

Research Underscores Absence of Paid Sick Leave at Nation’s Largest Employer Poses a Public Health Risk

Date of Release: April 28, 2021

NATIONWIDE — A new study out today quantifies the public health impacts of Walmart’s failure to have a paid sick leave policy that met the needs of associates and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human Impact Partners found that had Walmart established an adequate paid sick leave policy before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, at least 7,618 employee cases of COVID-19 and 133 deaths from COVID-19 could have been prevented

Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer in the United States and has a long history of resisting adequate paid sick leave for employees. Early on in the pandemic, Walmart refused a request made by shareholders to study the feasibility of a 14 day paid sick time benefit – even as reports were emerging of employees contracting the virus at work. Meanwhile, Walmart — like all private employers with more than 500 employers — was exempt from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act’s mandate to establish paid sick leave policy.  

“Without sufficient paid sick leave, Walmart workers face an impossible choice between staying home to stay healthy but risking wage loss and retaliation, or coming into work symptomatic despite the public health danger this poses to customers and communities,” said Sukhdip Purewal Boparai, Research Project Director at Human Impact Partners. “Employers and elected officials need to understand that paid sick leave is a non-negotiable policy that all Americans need, and an essential key to recovery from this pandemic. Walmart should be leading the way for employers across the country by implementing a universal paid sick leave policy that supports workers and the public to get through the current crisis safely.” 

Human Impact Partners is a national nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California which seeks to transform the field of public health to center equity and builds collective power with social justice movements. Researchers at Human Impact Partners calculated the national numbers of preventable COVID-19 cases and deaths among Walmart workers using methodology from researchers at University of Wisconsin, who estimated the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among workers in Wisconsin using epidemiological surveillance data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. HIP researchers then applied an estimate from the sick pay literature that attributes a 6% reduction in death and caseload of influenza-like disease to paid sick time policies, replicating a methodology that University of Wisconsin researchers used as well. This methodology is a powerful tool to quantify the benefits of paid sick time as an effective public health measure. 

Where Walmart’s Paid Sick Leave and COVID-19 Pandemic Policies Went Wrong 

Walmart currently provides 48 hours of “protected paid time off”, but workers have reported barriers like retaliation and lack of communication around the policy in accessing even this meager amount of leave. 

According to a 2020 survey, 45% of Walmart associates reported they were still likely to come into work if they were sick. Employees reported fear of disciplinary action, loss of wages, and no knowledge of the 48 hour policy as reasons they would choose not to stay home while ill. 

Walmart associates were also not informed when co-workers tested positive for the virus.  In collaboration with United for Respect, Walmart employees created a COVID-19 tracker to keep each other informed and safe. Currently, they are tracking 1,862 cases across the country.

“The failures in Walmart’s coronavirus response are not new,” said Cynthia Murray, a Walmart associate and leader with United for Respect, who has also introduced a shareholder resolution calling on the creation of a pandemic task force at Walmart to address policies like paid sick leave. “Workers have been telling Walmart management for years that we need paid sick leave so we’re not forced to come to work sick. This pandemic is not over yet, and Walmart’s paid leave policy gap is a life or death issue for workers and customers and a huge risk to the company. That’s why I’m calling on Walmart to create a pandemic task force. If workers’ voices were included in decision-making, we could have had paid sick leave already, and countless lives could have been saved at Walmart and beyond. It is time our employers and our elected leaders start listening.” 

Key Takeaways

HIP’s report underscored the scale and urgency of implementing adequate paid sick leave policies at Walmart and across the country:

  • Access to paid sick time saves lives:  HIP’s original research found that if Walmart had an established paid sick leave policy in place before the pandemic, research indicates that 133 employee lives could have been saved, and 7,618 COVID-19 cases prevented. Without universal paid sick time, thirteen additional Walmart employees will be at risk of COVID-19 death between April and July 2021 — unless the company takes immediate action.
  • Lack of paid sick leave exacerbates pandemics: Without paid sick leave, workers may not have the option to miss out on a paycheck. A study last year revealed that 94% of workers surveyed would comply with self-quarantine during COVID-19 when they were compensated for loss of income, whereas only 57% of employees would comply with the guidance if they weren’t compensated. 
  • Paid sick time is beneficial for childrens’ health: Children whose parents have paid sick time are more likely to be current on their healthcare needs, like receiving their annual check-up and flu vaccine. Considering nearly half of Latinx employees and over a third of Black employees do not receive paid sick time, this undoubtedly perpetuates inequality and keeps Black and brown children from thriving.
  • Employers benefit from paid sick time policies: Having established paid leave in place has been found to increase loyalty and morale amongst employees, and decrease turnover – all goals Walmart has alluded to, even in their recent decision to grant more employees full-time status. 
  • Paid sick time is critical for racial, gender, and economic equity: Because Walmart employs more women and Black and Latinx workers than any other US corporation, the positive outcomes associated with paid sick time would be far-reaching — to families and communities across the country, with benefits for gender, economic, and racial equity.

Full report here >> Walmart’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic: How lack of paid sick time prolongs the pandemic and increases mortality

About HIP:

Human Impact Partners transforms the field of public health to center equity and builds collective power with social justice movements.

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