Walmart’s Paid Sick Leave Policy is the Punchline to an Abusive Employer Joke

Increasing health inequity and exposing the public to risk are the direct results

The pandemic has been kind to Walmart. It saw its profits soar in 2020, almost quadrupling its year-on-year growth. Along with the other retail giant, Amazon, the two accounted for nearly $10 billion dollars in profit. A Brookings report offered the following damning condemnation of the two companies.

Together, they have earned an extra $10.7 billion over last year’s profits during (and largely because of) the pandemic — a stunning 56% increase. Despite this surge, we ranked Amazon and Walmart among the least generous of the 13 large retail and grocery companies studied in our report. The two companies could have quadrupled the extra COVID-19 compensation they gave to their workers through their last quarter and still earned more profit than last year.

Image courtesy of Brookings

Stock prices for Walmart have soared 36% since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, worker wages had grown only 6% by the end of 2020 even after last December’s bonuses were announced by the company. Walmart has (along with Amazon) redefined the term “corporate greed”, electing to drop sick and vulnerable employees along the way, viewing them as discarded lumps of diseased flesh not worthy of their billions. Damaged goods that can no longer serve their masters, through no fault of the employee.

If you think that description is a little harsh, it isn’t. It is reflective of a political mindset in America that rewards enslaving and exploiting the poor, often at the cost of their health. It is a mindset that persists independently of the color that occupies the White House, enshrined, entrenched capitalism at its worst. You cannot argue figures away and the graph above may as well be painted in the blood of the employees and families Walmart has destroyed in the last year.

According to figures from a recent study by Human Impact Partners, the extent of the impact of Walmart’s Sick Leave policy during the pandemic is this: at least 7,618 employee cases of COVID-19 and 133 deaths from COVID-19 could have been prevented. The effects on the broader public cannot be quantified. By forcing sick employees to return to work, Walmart has knowingly exposed its customers to potential infection from the coronavirus, contributing directly to the spread of the virus in the general population. It’s motivation? Unconscionable greed.

To make matters worse, intentional obstacles to accessing the paltry two days of paid sick leave make it even more difficult for sick Walmart staff to access the funds. 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.

Offer your workers only TWO DAYS OF PAID SICK LEAVE and the following two scenarios unfold, pandemic or no pandemic. 

  • Your employee is forced to return to work on the third day if they want to put food on the table for their families. If they’ve contracted a virus, this is the time they are at their most infectious, so Walmart is encouraging a policy that exposes the public to grave risk.
  • Walmart turns off the pittance it drip-feeds its employees on day three of their illness if employers have even been able to access these funds in the first place. Staff who become seriously ill face a double whammy. Any potential savings, if they are fortunate, are quickly eroded by medical expenses, medication, and the related costs of illness, and their source of income is officially disconnected as per Walmart policy. No money, no food, no medicine. Tell me which part doesn’t upset you?

Add in the institutional obstacles to accessing these funds and staff are automatically coerced into staying at work, despite being ill. This promotes the spread of disease and places the life and health of the employee at risk.

Flawed Business or Flawed America

Take your pick, one or the other or both, the outcomes are the same. Current policies and permitted practices encourage racism, enforce poverty and deprive the poorest communities of the dignity of basic health and access to care. Ask yourself this.

Why is it that hard-working Americans are required to petition employees for BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS? BASIC HEALTH? BASIC DIGNITIES? Clearly, that little piece of paper referred to as a constitution appears to be fundamentally flawed and may require a redraft. The rights of all working Americans to the dignity of something as simple as paid sick leave, particularly at the time of a pandemic should be enshrined in law, vigorously enforced by legislation, and actively policed for transgressors. Fail to do this, to recognize basic human rights, and the subsequent costs of a failed system skyrocket. Particularly for healthcare.

Walmart isn’t just killing its staff and exposing the public to danger with its despicable profit-based policies, it’s contributing to the downfall of the American Healthcare system. Vote with your feet to register your outrage and do the right thing. Shop elsewhere until this greedy corporate entity decides to recognize its employees as human beings. 

Both Democrats and Republicans need to focus more on resolving basic inadequacies like these that affect large swathes of Americans. You cannot build new infrastructure on rotten foundations, President Biden, and your current building is teetering on the verge of collapse. You can read the full HIP report here: Walmart’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic: How lack of paid sick time prolongs the pandemic and increases mortality


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This article lives here: Healthcare Policy and OpinionWalmart's Paid Sick Leave Policy is the Punchline to an Abusive Employer Joke
Robert Turner, Founding Editor
Robert Turner, Founding Editor
Robert is a Founder of Medika Life. He is a published author and owner of MedKoin Healthcare Solutions. He lives between the Philippines and the UK. and is an outspoken advocate for human rights. Access to basic healthcare and eradicating racial and gender bias in medicine are key motivators behind the Medika website and reflect Robert's passion for accessible medical care globally.

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