Given the recent news about Wal-Mart's sick days practice, we all may want to think twice about shopping there this holiday season—which regrettably overlaps with cold and flu season.
Because the breaking news on Wal-Mart's practice is, well, sickening: as The New York Times recently reported, "At Wal-Mart, when employees miss one or more days because of illness or other reasons, they generally get a demerit point. Once employees obtain four points over a six-month period, they begin receiving warnings that can lead to dismissal."
The article goes on to quote workers who felt pressured to go to work even when they were sick, including one who was sick with—you guessed it—the dreaded H1N1 virus!
Unfortunately, that makes complete sense: in this economy, with family budgets stretched to the breaking point and scores of workers vying for every job opening. Workers are simply too anxious to do anything that could jeopardize their paychecks or their jobs.
Wal-Mart's practice is indefensibly bad for workers, their families, and our public health.
That's why the National Partnership for Women & Families is joining with our allies at MomsRising.org, and our other partners, in the Demerit Wal-Mart campaign. We're helping build a movement of thousands and thousands of people who are standing up to Wal-Mart until the company changes its short-sighted practice. It's Wal-Mart and its executives who need a demerit badge, not its workers.
Now, I know that Wal-Mart seems like an all-too-easy target for complaints from workers' rights advocates. But really, they're making it tough to ignore their actions.
Beyond our concerns for Wal-Mart's workers, and our public health, we've got our eyes on Wal-Mart because it's one of the largest private employers in the country. With about 1.4 million employees, and locations all across the nation, Wal-Mart often sets the standard for other employers. Which means we can't let them off the hook when they're not doing right by their workers or their customers. We have to urge Wal-Mart to fix this practice—sooner rather than later. And we have to let not only Wal-Mart, but all employers know that this kind of practice is unacceptable.
The National Partnership is particularly alarmed about the impact Wal-Mart's practice has on women.
Women make up 72 percent of Wal-Mart's workers, and since women still perform many of the caregiving duties for their families, they are disproportionately at risk for punishment or even firing under policies like this one.
The National Partnership is working to pass a national standard of paid sick days that workers can access without fear of punishment: the Healthy Families Act. But until the day we win that national standard, we are calling on standard-bearing employers like Wal-Mart to step up and change their ways.