Another Wal-Mart Policy Change Draws Fire

October 16, 2006 ( - The nation's largest private sector employer has put in place a new attendance policy that it claims will better ensure consistency - but critics were, once again, inclined to see darker motives.

Specifically, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has enacted a new attendance policy that requires that employees requesting time off for illness to call an 800 number to get a code – and then relay that code to their store manager for approval of their absence. Previously, employees asked their store manager directly for such time off, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Policy Statement

Additionally, the new policy formalizes penalties for employees who fail to get their absences authorized or don’t bother to call. Those penalties include the disciplining of employees with more than three unauthorized absences in a six-month span, and the firing of any with seven such absences. Employees needing more than three consecutive sick days are encouraged to apply for an unpaid leave of absence or time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, whereas previously, store managers had more discretion regarding discipline for unexcused absences, according to the WSJ.

Critics say the changes are part of a bigger effort to nudge out unhealthy employees, but Wal-Mart says the new attendance policy ensures “a more consistent application of our absentee policy,” according to the WSJ, citing spokesman John Simley.

Targeted Practices

Wal-Mart has been the target of a growing number of lawsuits, and the poster child for a multi-state legislative push to impose minimum benefit coverage levels on larger employers (see Picking Up the Tab ).

On Friday, a Pennsylvania jury said that the company must pay at least $78.5 million for violating Pennsylvania labor laws by forcing employees to work through rest breaks and off the clock – and plaintiffs’ lawyer Michael Donovan will also seek another $62 million in damages because the jury found that Wal-Mart acted in bad faith, according to reports. (see PA Jury Finds Wal-Mart Violated Labor Laws ). Last December, a California jury hit Wal-Mart Stores with a $172 million verdict for not giving about 116,000 current and ex-employees an unpaid lunch break as required under a California law (see Golden State Jury Hits Wal-Mart with $172M Verdict in Lunch Break Case ).