A dozen top legal officers are urging Walmart to improve safety protections for employees amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter addressed to CEO Doug McMillon on Tuesday, 12 attorneys general — led by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul — wrote that they had continued to receive reports of allegedly overcrowded and inadequately sanitized stores despite the big-box giant’s purported knowledge of confirmed COVID-19 cases within its ranks.
They also said that they heard complaints from Walmart workers who claimed they were not informed about colleagues who contracted the illness and were pressured into returning to work even after they had been exposed to the coronavirus.
“The pressure that workers feel to keep working even if they are sick or symptomatic is directly related to Walmart’s inadequate paid leave policies,” added the attorneys general from California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and more states.
Currently, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer provides employees up to two weeks of pay if they are required by a government agency, health-care provider or the company to quarantine — or if they’re diagnosed with COVID-19. If they’re unable to return to work after the 14-day period due to the coronavirus, they can take as many as 26 weeks of leave at half pay.
However, the attorneys general alleged that such policies don’t allow workers to take additional paid time off to help care for family members who are ill or for children whose schools are shut down as a result of the outbreak.
“Walmart’s restricted COVID-19 emergency leave remains woefully short of the basic standards set by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act to confront this pandemic,” the letter read, referencing the bill signed by President Donald Trump in mid-March. (The act helps provide funding for free coronavirus testing and increased funding for food stamps, as well as two weeks of paid leave for American workers impacted by the pandemic.)
The attorneys general called on Walmart to ensure that social distancing practices are followed; workers are provided with personal protective equipment; barriers are put in place between customers and cashiers; and that the number of shoppers allowed inside at a given time is reduced, among other demands.
In addition, they asked for a full two weeks of paid leave for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, as well as up to 14 days of paid leave at two-thirds of their usual wages if an employee needs to help care for a sick family member or for a child at home.
“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. That’s why we are working in partnership with local health officials and are taking proactive steps to help ensure the safety of our associates and customers,” a Walmart spokesperson told FN. “We will continue to be proactive in our approach to health and safety.”
It’s not the first time the retail giant’s coronavirus-related practices and policies have come into question. In late April, four United States senators penned a letter urging the chain to improve safety for its frontline workers following reports that several employees had died of the coronavirus. Further, a wrongful death suit alleging that the company failed to implement proper health and safety standards to protect its workforce has been filed in Illinois by the family of a Walmart store worker who died after contracting COVID-19.
This story has been updated with a statement from Walmart.