Walmart’s Attendance Policy Penalizes Workers With Disabilities Like Me. The EEOC Agrees.
I am a person with disabilities — I have severe asthma and diabetes — and they can be paralyzing when they act up. I am also a hard worker, which I take a lot of pride in. Although my health issues can be challenging, I have never let them control me, and I always give 110% to my job. That’s why, in my first week of work at a Walmart Store in Charleston, South Carolina, I told my supervisor about my disabilities and explained what I needed to manage them: occasional breaks to use my nebulizer to help me breathe, and test my blood sugar. This was never a problem — they even let me use the office in the store to test my blood sugar. But on the few days when my blood sugar got so high that my vision became blurry, or my asthma flared so badly that I had trouble breathing, I was punished with “points” when I needed to miss work — even though I followed procedure and called in to report my absences and offered a doctor’s note the next day. Those points eventually cost me my job.
Walmart has a strict attendance policy where hourly workers receive what they call “points,” recorded by the company every time they are absent, arrive more than 10 minutes late, or need to leave early — even if those absences are caused by a disability. Points lead to discipline, and eventually termination. Afraid of accumulating too many points, I often came into work when I was feeling sick to save my absences for the days when my disabilities made it so that I could not go to work. Nevertheless, in April 2017, after missing four days of work when my high blood sugar left me bedridden, I was fired. It was devastating. I had worked all my life and put in nearly ten years with Walmart, which felt like home. I was proud to work there. I had never been fired from a job before, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage. How was I going to pay my rent, and buy food and clothes for my 9-year-old son?
I knew what was happening to me was wrong, so I went online and started looking for answers and help. I found a Huffington Post article about a report by A Better Balance called “Pointing Out.” That’s what Walmart workers call it when you lose your job because of racking up too many attendance points. I read through the article and recognized myself in the stories they were telling. I got in touch right away.
With the help of A Better Balance, I filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), challenging my termination as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for people like me — employees with disabilities, which can include time off. Now the EEOC has sent me a letter saying that they found reasonable cause to believe that Walmart had not only violated my rights by not allowing me to take leave for disability-related reasons without getting docked attendance points — but that, through its attendance policy, Walmart violated the rights of a whole group of workers with disabilities across the country. Walmart’s impact on my life is still felt today, but I know now that I am not alone.
Walmart now has an opportunity to do the right thing, and I am hopeful that the company will step up to ensure that employees with disabilities, like me, can fully participate in the workforce and are able to take time off when they need it without punishment. And it’s not just people with disabilities who need leave — Walmart must make sure that all of its employees are able to stay home when they are sick without risking their jobs. This is now more important than ever, in light of the public health threat caused by coronavirus. No worker at Walmart, or at any company in America, should be punished for a personal or family health emergency. It’s time to update this policy without delay.