AGs Say Walmart Employees Need More Virus Protections

By Adam Lidgett
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Law360 (June 2, 2020, 8:27 PM EDT) -- A dozen U.S. attorneys general are pushing Walmart to beef up protections for its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying they have received reports of stores with people too close to one another and locations not being properly cleaned.

In a Tuesday letter to the retail giant's CEO Douglas McMillon, the attorneys general said they have been told that people in Walmart stores have not been adequately socially distancing from one another and that some stores weren't sanitized well enough after employees were diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Additionally, the attorneys general — led by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul — said they have also received reports that Walmart workers are not being told about colleagues diagnosed with COVID-19 and that those who have been exposed are pressured into returning to work. Raoul was joined by AGs from California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., among others.

"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," the letter said.

The letter said that Walmart only gives workers two weeks of leave at full pay if they are either required by the government, a doctor or the company to quarantine or if they are confirmed to actually have COVID-19. The letter further alleged that employees can take as many as 26 weeks of leave at half pay if the worker has a positive COVID-19 case.

However, those policies don't let employees take more paid leave to help care for family members who are sick or take time to look after their children if schools are shut down because of the pandemic, according to the letter.

The AGs said the company's practices don't match the policies required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which passed in March.

"As communities across the nation continue facing shortages in testing kits and as workers are often needed at home — to care for a family member who has to quarantine or a child whose care provider is unavailable due to the pandemic — 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.

The attorneys general called on Walmart to make sure people in its stores are six feet apart; give workers non-medical masks; install a barrier between customers and cashiers; and cut down on the number of customers the company allows into its locations at a given time, among other things.

The AGs additionally want the fully paid two weeks of leave to be extended to anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms and is trying to get a diagnosis. Workers should also be able to get up to two weeks of leave paid at two-thirds their normal rate if they need to care for someone in quarantine or for a child, the AGs said.

The AGs also said Walmart should provide "up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at a rate of at least two-thirds the employee's regular rate of pay when an employee is unable to work due to COVID-19 or has a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19."

Walmart said in statement to Law360 that "while it may be impossible to track the source of anyone's infection," the company is "working in partnership with local health officials and ... taking proactive steps to help ensure the safety of [the company's] associates and customers."

"We have temporarily closed some stores to conduct COVID-19 testing of our associates and for additional cleaning and third-party sanitizing," Walmart's statement said. "In addition to the paid sick leave that is offered to all of our hourly associates, for associates that have been quarantined or tested positive, they are using our COVID paid leave options as they recover. Sadly, we have also had associates pass away, and we feel their loss deeply."

Walmart additionally said that it was "following the evolving guidance of public health experts" and that it has taken certain steps like "making masks and gloves available to all associates, limiting the hours and number of customers in ... stores and clubs, deep cleaning facilities, taking temperature checks and health screenings of associates, installing plexiglass guards and implementing social distancing measures in all ... facilities."

--Additional reporting by Braden Campbell. Editing by Daniel King.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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