Will a lack of paid sick leave cost retailers as the coronavirus outbreak spreads?
It’s common in the retailing and the foodservice industries that chain employers do not extend paid sick time benefits to part-time workers. Such benefits are even rarer in mom and pop operations. While it has been commonly accepted that this practice saves businesses money, it also has a potential downside when employees who are not feeling well show up for work to avoid losing a day’s pay.
An opinion piece written by Christopher Ingraham, a Washington Post data reporter, points out that the U.S. government does not mandate that businesses offer paid sick leave benefits. The result is that roughly 25 percent of American workers simply do not get paid if they stay home from work.
The same article references research by Stefan Pichler of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute and Nicholas Robert Ziebarth of Cornell that examined what happened in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. and states including California and Connecticut that have passed legislation mandating paid sick leave during influenza outbreaks.
What the research turned up is that the spread of the flu plummeted by up to 40 percent in areas where sick leave was mandated.
Last week, Walmart sent a memo to all its employees in the U.S. offering guidelines for ways they can avoid contracting the virus, while urging them to “stay home when you are sick.”
Jami Lamontagne, a Walmart spokesperson, told RetailWire today that the situation around the coronavirus is rapidly “evolving” and the retailer is prepared to adjust its “business operations and policies, such as waiving absences, as appropriate.”
In response, United for Respect, an organized labor-backed group, issued a joint statement with Melissa Love, a four-year Walmart employee, that claims the chain’s own policies, including accrual time for part-timers and bonus payments tied to attendance, may affect whether associates pay heed to its request to stay home when not feeling well.
In the U.S. at least 118 cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) with nine deaths have been reported in 12 states so far, and globally there have been over 90,000 confirmed cases and around 3,100 deaths.
- COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak – Worldometer
- Our lack of paid sick leave will make the coronavirus worse – The Washington Post
- The pros and cons of sick pay schemes: Contagious presenteeism and noncontagious absenteeism behavior – VOX
- US workplaces are nowhere near ready to contain a coronavirus outbreak – The Conversation
- Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020 – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Walmart Memo to U.S. Associates About Coronavirus – Walmart
- Retailers go into business triage mode as coronavirus enters the U.S. – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should retailers address employees who do not have paid sick leave during outbreaks of contagious diseases such as the flu and the coronavirus? Do retailers and/or governmental entities need to rethink paid sick time policies?