Paid Sick Leave Could Have Prevented 7,500 Cases of Covid at Walmart

Illustration for article titled Paid Sick Leave Could Have Prevented 7,500 Cases of Covid at Walmart
Image: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

According to a new study that should have simply been common sense, two weeks of paid sick leave at Walmart could have prevented 7,500 covid-19 infections and 133 deaths among associates.

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The study, conducted by a non-profit called Human Impact Partners, used data collected by the University of Wisconsin to determine that paid sick leave could have meant a nearly 6 percent decrease in covid cases and deaths:

“Researchers used the US national Covid-19 case rate to determine that at least 125,000 Walmart employees, of which the company says there are nearly 1.6m in the US, contracted Covid-19 between February 2020 and February 2021. The company has not publicly released data detailing how many employees have had the virus,” according to the Guardian 

Walmart’s policy around paid sick leave is (likely purposely) vague, relying on a labyrinthine points system that leaves 45 percent of its employees reporting that they work even if they are sick. Per the Guardian:

“In lieu of time off dedicated to illness, the superstore chain offers “protected PTO” (paid time off) hours that can be used to take time off without accruing any points against their attendance. Employees can accrue up to 48 hours – about six days of work – of protected PTO each year, earning an hour for every 30 hours worked, according to Walmart policy.”

Updated covid guidelines gave workers two weeks paid leave if they tested positive for covid or mandated quarantines and allowed employees who suspected they had covid to take unpaid leave without threat of being fired. However, “not being fired” is not the same as being paid wages.

A spokesperson for Walmart countered that no one can say where anyone did or didn’t get covid and the deaths of its employees mirrored American suffering as a whole:

“While it may be impossible to track the source of anyone’s infection, what we are seeing is that the health of our associates tends to track the health of the country as a whole,” the spokesperson said.

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It’s very true that it is likely impossible to say how many Walmart customers contracted covid from the at least 125,000 Walmart employees who likely had covid and no guaranteed paid leave from February 2000 to February 2021. Walmart is also correct about another aspect of its statement: this callousness towards the value of human life by corporations and the U.S. government absolutely tracks for the country as a whole.

DISCUSSION

I am not proud of this, but, back when I was working  temp and contract gigs with no sick time, I would come to work no matter how sick I was.  I needed the money.  I felt bad for possibly exposing folks, but not bad enough to start putting groceries on my credit card, it would seem.