Save Money, Live Shorter? Wal-Mart Accused of Violating CDC Guidelines in Policies that Spread Flu

225px-new_walmart_logosvgWhat would we do without Wal-Mart? When Wal-Mart is not destroying historic sites or abusing employees and customers (here) it is working hard to guarantee the efficient spread of swine flu or H1N1. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) is now intervening to address Wal-Mart draconian labor practices which violate the CDC guidelines, common sense, and human decency. The store imposes a “demerit” system that penalizes employees for staying home with flu-symptoms — preferring it appears for them to come to work to infect customers. It may require a slight change to the slogan “Save Money. Live Better” to reflect the shorter life expectancy for employees and customers alike.

The store imposes demerits and deducts pay when employees stay home, as recommended by the CDC, with flu symptoms or to take care of children with such symptoms. One of the main recommendations of the CDC is for employers to allow workers to stay home with flu symptoms and to allow them to do so with sick children at home.

Wal-Mart omitted that part of the CDC instructions in its policy for employees, who are told to simply wash their hands and cover their nose and mouth when coughing.

It, however, proceeds to impose a rule that any employee who misses a day due to sickness will receive a one-point demerit and lose eight hours of wages. Three such absences within six months leads to discipline and a fifth day results in “active coaching” by management. I am not sure what that is but it does not appear good. A sixth day leads to what Wal-Mart calls “Decision Day,” when a worker can be either terminated or put on a year-long trial period during which time he or she can be fired for any infraction and cannot be promoted.

The result is that Wal-Mart employees are coming in sick and reportedly loading their children with Motrin and Dimetap to suppress the fever of their children with the flu to keep them in school — further spreading the flu.

Many employees have complained for years that Walmart fired them after having documented illnesses. In one case on the radio this morning, a former employee complained that he was in such pain that he was barely able to walk and asked to go to the hospital. The supervisor told him that he would receive a demerit and face “decision day.” When he returned with proof from the hospital, he was fired and told it was due to missing work and getting angry at a supervisor after she told him that she would not accept a doctor’s note verifying the injury.

On the positive side, Wal-Mart is now offering a new line of coffins — the ultimate offering for a Big Box store. This closes the loop for customers who can shop at the store, be infected, die, and actually leave in a big box.

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18 thoughts on “Save Money, Live Shorter? Wal-Mart Accused of Violating CDC Guidelines in Policies that Spread Flu”

  1. walmarts bullshit… i called in sick and they didnt even believe me. they have many levels of discipline. missing work leads to the levels of dicsipline. a co worker of mine took the 10 second longer way to walk to her till after clocking in and was issue a verbal coaching i vote to boycott walmart

  2. I thought this was interesting:

    “11.05.09 – 11:55 AM
    Flu Shots for Fat Cats: No Lines for H2N1 Vaccine for Wall Street Swine

    by NBC Today Show

    While people across the U.S. wait in long lines for swine flu vaccine, the shots arrive on Wall Street. CNBC’s Trish Regan reports and NBC’s chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, weighs in. (Today Show/ November 5, 2009)”

  3. Megan–

    I’ve never set foot inside a Wal-Mart store–and never plan to in the future. It disturbs me that Wal-Mart has been responsible for helping to put other American companies out of business with its demand for extremely low prices for their manufactured goods. Americans can’t compete with companies overseas that have low-cost slave labor.

  4. I never buy from Walmart due to their personnel policies, lack of health care, and the cheap products produced by exploited workers.

    Let’s all boycott them and take a look at our own spending habits.

  5. Byron–

    You said: “Most big organizations suck to work for, why pick on Wal-Mart?”


    I think this is an especially unconscionable Wal-Mart policy. Think of the number of stores the company has and the number of people it employs across the country. Think of the number of customers their employees come in contact with on a daily basis. If employees with the H1N1 virus feel compelled to come to work, this flu could be spread exponentially.

    I agree with what rafflaw said: “If they did force employees to come to work who had H1N1 they would be partially responsible for adding to a pandemic. How is that good for business or their employees or the country?”

    Too often big corporations pollute our land…our water…our air–because they feel it’s too expensive to implement “green” policies. In the long run, it is much more costly to clean up the mess they’ve made. Of course, the cost of many clean-ups are paid by us, the taxpayers–so, I guess one might consider the decision to pollute a wise one for the corporations.

    And what about all the people who become victims of cancer and other diseases because of the pollution? That adds to the cost of health care–not to mention the loss of human life and quality of life.

    My perspective: I think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  6. I wonder how long it will be until a customer infected with H1N1 by one of the Walmart employees sues the company. After all, it would just amount to a business expense to such a corporation.

  7. Byron,
    Just because many corporations would do the same thing as Wal Mart would, does not make their policies any saner. They continue to screw their employees and their competitors without hesitation. They have no shame and no common sense. If they did force employees to come to work who had H1N1 they would be partially responsible for adding to a pandemic. How is that good for business or their employees or the country?

  8. Buddha:

    I did not say it was a good idea, I just said that big corporations all act in their own self interest. If someone doesn’t like it then go to work for yourself.

    The health care issue is a big deal and we were lucky that we were able to get health care through my wife’s work. I agree that health care needs to be revamped.

    But keep in mind that out of a country of 300,000,000 people only about 30,000 have CF.
    [Approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States have cystic fibrosis. An additional ten million more—or about one in every 31 Americans—are carriers of the defective CF gene, but do not have the disease. CF is most common in Caucasians, but it can affect all races.]

    Do you screw 300,000,000 million to save 30,000? Life is fraught with uncertainties and dangers. Government cannot nor should it eliminate or mitigate the inherent risk that is life. To do so it must, in my opinion, trample someones rights.

    As far as executive pay goes, do you blame them? If someone offers me 100,000,000 dollars to tell them to re-release Snow White and Pinocchio I think I would take it and see how much more the dumb asses were willing to give me. The problem with executive pay is that you have morons picking the executives.

    You and I could probably, along with a good honest accountant, run most companies in this country and turn a profit. We would probably do it for a lot less than most execs make and in most cases we would probably have better run companies and happier employees.

    Most of them just have a good line of BS and are able to get people to follow them. Along with some business sense. But most aren’t worth more than the value they add to a company. It is up to the BOD to determine this. I am guessing that if they paid, say $500,000/year plus a small % of profits they could hire most anyone they wanted.

  9. Byron,

    I don’t think anyone is cutting the other bad corporate actors any slack, but you point to the OBVIOUS problem with unrestrained capitalism. “I cant say I would have done any different. The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the one, at least in business.” I don’t think you’re a bad guy, but this is a bad idea. Business, making a dollar no matter the human cost, is at the end of the day a ridiculous way to spend ones time on Earth that is totally selfish in motivation – you pointed this out yourself. You were lucky in that when you were fired you had the skills to open your own shop. Not everyone is as skilled or has the ability to do this. Yeah, you recouped and can take care of your daughter. But for every one of you, I’m willing to bet there are 500 who were just screwed – either forced into bankruptcy for bills or they had to choose to let their child die so that they may live. Have you forgotten the story last year where Wal-Mart, a self-insured company, tried to deny benefits to a worker with brain cancer? And that their excuse was they as insurers “were under capitalized”? Considering their executive pay and profit margins, that’s simply evil. It’s simply criminal and amoral. That Wal-Mart is a better example of a bad corporate because their operations are more open to public scrutiny doesn’t make them any better than Exxon. Just like Starbucks, it just makes scrutinizing their bad actions easier from the outside.

  10. Buddha/Gyges/Jill:

    “Playing Devil’s Advocate is one thing, but please . . . haven’t you seen enough of Wal-Mart to realize they are a poster child for corporatism and greed?”

    I am saying that most big corps pick on their people. I got fired when my daughter was born and the company was self-insured. I think it cost them close to a million dollars because of complications due to her CF. And it would have cost them hundreds of thousands more for maintenance care.

    It is one of the reasons I have my own company. You work for someone and your life and that of your family is literally in their hands. Because of that experience I am not a fan of big corporations, but I do understand why they fired me. I cant say I would have done any different. The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the one, at least in business. Government is a different animal. The individual should reign supreme.

    But nothing is forcing these people to work for Wal-Mart or for any company for that matter. They can always quit and work for Target or K-Mart or start some type of business.

    Rain barrels to capture run-off from roofs is starting to be a big thing, at least in our area. I bought one. It cost about $135 including shipping. You know what it is, it is a used olive barrel. You can get them for $15/each and that is shipped to your door if you buy in bulk. They have another $50 dollars of labor and material in them. A $55 profit for a little ingenuity seems like a good thing to me.

    Or putting together “flitch” beams, 2 pcs. of wood and a piece of steel. Sell them to contractors and deliver them to the job site.

    Screw big corporations but don’t single out Wal-Mart, most suck to work for and most abuse their people in one form or another. Let’s be egalitarian about this.

  11. This makes sense to me. Don’t forget that walmart is so generous that they will buy life insurance on you as a low level employee. Makes business sense to me.

  12. Byron,

    Five days in six months. That’s less than a day a month. I know lots of people in lots of different types of jobs, no-one except the incredibly desperate would put up with that. Especially not professionals.

    Wal-mart has a well known history of putting their employees in such a position that they can’t afford to ‘say no’ to their unreasonable demands. Purposely keeping hours and wages low enough that people are afraid to make any sort of request lest they be given less hours than they need to scrape by. To put it simply, their business plan hinges on keeping their employees in as desperate of straights as possible so they can save money on pay roll.

    That’s what you’re defending.

  13. Byron,

    Playing Devil’s Advocate is one thing, but please . . . haven’t you seen enough of Wal-Mart to realize they are a poster child for corporatism and greed?

  14. Byron,

    The swine flu is a known communicable disease, that’s why the CDC has set very specific guidelines for dealing with it. It is a public health necessity, for the well-being of everyone, that these guidelines be followed.

    People get sick. I agree that the inability to recognize this fact is not limited to Wal-Mart in the US. Instead of making sane policy regarding needed sick days, we demand that people work sick. This not only prolongs their illness but it spreads it to other people. This is not sound corporate policy and it is not public spirited. The swine flu is considered an epidemic. As such, it is the duty of everyone, including the extremely wealthy corporations, to help prevent its spread.

    Your comparison with executives doesn’t hold. By your own admission and executive makes a lot more money. This would enable them to hire a babysitter or even a nurse for their sick child. Should they be fired, they would have a cushion to live off between jobs. Wal-Mart is not a small business who cannot afford to pay sick leave. It has a history of failure to pay its employees adequately or to offer affordable health care, while dumbing these expenses onto the surrounding community and taking tax breaks. There has to be some limit to the sociopathy that we will tolerate from wealth corporations.

    In this case, they are a company who could easily afford to pay sick time for the very necessary issue of public safety. The corporate person must get their act together and act responsibly in society. They have a legal status of person. Either they renounce that status so they can act like a sociopath or they hold themselves to account for acting as a decent, sane member of society.

  15. Yet another item to be added to the long, long list of why I despise Wal*Mart and will never spend one red cent in one of their stores.

  16. that is pretty harsh. But then even professionals come to work sick. Although they do make much more money. But even professionals would get dressed down for missing too much work and would probably not be put on the fast track for promotion.

    The only difference is the amount of money, anyone that has a boss at a major corporation, even a professional, is pretty much treated the same way unless he/she makes the company a bunch of money.

    Most big organizations suck to work for, why pick on Wal-Mart?

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