Walmart, one of the nation’s largest employers with more than 1.4 million U.S. workers, is reporting that a store worker in Cynthiana, Ky., has tested positive for the coronavirus, though no details about how the employee contracted the illness were made public.
An internal memo issued by John Furner, CEO of Walmart U.S., Kath McLay, CEO of Sam’s Club, and Donna Morris, Walmart chief people officer, early Tuesday (March 10) outlined the company’s response to the news. The executives said the infected employee is receiving medical care and her condition is improving.
Walmart said the company has consulted with state and local health experts, reinforced its cleaning and sanitizing protocol, and the store where she works remains open. The company said it is taking precautions to keep stores, clubs and other facilities clean, and is communicating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep locations virus-free.
Given the rapid spread of the virus in other regions and countries, Walmart said any employee not feeling well should stay home. Walmart has created a COVID-19 emergency leave policy that is effective immediately. This new protocol includes three different circumstances. Walmart said during any time an employee feels unable to work or becomes uncomfortable at work, they can choose to stay home. The retail giant said it is supporting this choice and will waive the attendance policy through the end of April. Walmart asks workers to call in as usual and let supervisors know if they are unable to work. Walmart said in order to be paid for this time off, workers can use their regular paid time off options.
Walmart said should a store, club or facility come under a mandated quarantine, or if workers are required to be quarantined by a government agency or Walmart, they will receive up to two weeks of pay, and absences during that time will not count again attendance. Walmart said it chose two weeks because it matches the recommended time for quarantines related to the virus.
The retail giant said should a worker have a confirmed case of COVID-19, they will receive up to two week’s pay. If they are not able to return to work after that time, additional pay replacement may be provided for up to 26 weeks for full-time and part-time hourly employees.
Walmart also has waived the year-long employment eligibility for workers to be able to apply for the company’s critical need grants which are administered by an independent charitable trust.
This move to accommodate store and distribution center workers comes after Walmart already told home office and back-office staff with the ability to work remotely from home to do so. Walmart also canceled its Year Beginning Meeting slated for this week in Dallas, opting instead to hold virtual meetings. Also, corporate travel on commercial airplanes has been curtailed, though the company’s own private jets are still available to take executives to stores and clubs each week on routine business.
Walmart has said its stores will remain open in markets impacted so that customers can have access to the food, meds and cleaning items that they need.
As of mid-Tuesday, there are 804 reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Arkansas remains one of the states clear of the virus, the state health department said Tuesday. Three people in Arkansas are under investigation, 103 people are being monitored and 12 people have tested negative for COVID-19.
The CDC said COVID-19 can be spread person-to-person when in close contact (within about 6 feet) or by inhaling respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People are thought to be contagious when they are sickest and symptomatic. CDC said there have been some reports of non-symptomatic infected people coming in contact with others, though that is not typical of most viruses. The virus can also be spread when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes.
CDC also said the COVID-19 virus seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the communities of some affected areas.