A Dollar short

In urban centers, Americans stuck at home during the pandemic are flocking to large grocery stores for supplies. But in wide swaths of America, the most convenient option is Dollar General. The company, which sells "food, snacks, health and beauty aids, cleaning supplies, family apparel, housewares, seasonal items, paper products and much more," has 16,368 retail locations in 45 states. There are fewer than 5,000 Walmarts in the United States. 

Dollar General stores "are located in small to mid-size communities." About 75% of Americans live within five miles of a Dollar General location. Last year, Dollar General brought in $27.8 billion in sales. 

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States, business at Dollar General is booming. On Monday, the company made the following announcement:

As the heightened demand for household essentials offered by Dollar General stores continues across the country amid COVID-19 concerns, the Company plans to nearly double its normal hiring rate and add up to 50,000 employees by the end of April as it continues to diligently work to support customers’ needs.

But those workers, except in states where it is required by law, will not be provided with paid sick leave. Popular Information heard from a dozen Dollar General employees who receive no paid sick leave, even after working for the company for as long as 15 years. 

Dollar General's COVID-19 policy, which was obtained by Popular Information, is also lacking. The company, according to an internal policy dated March 13, will provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees that are "confirmed having COVID-19." That would appear to require a positive COVID-19 test, which is still extremely hard to obtain. The same two weeks of paid sick leave is offered to workers if "an individual you provide care for, an intimate partner or a household member is confirmed having COVID-19." 

For employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — "fever, coughing, shortness of breath" — Dollar General will pay for your regularly scheduled hours for one day. During that time, you are advised to "seek medical attention." If you are unable to find a doctor within 24 hours, Dollar General advises workers to seek state services "to help with the diagnosis of COVID-19." There is no indication of what employees should do if that doesn't work. Even if you are able to obtain a COVID-19 test, the results can take several days to come back.

The internal guidance for Dollar General employees with "indirect exposure" to COVID-19 is particularly alarming. First, there is no definition of what counts as "indirect exposure." In the context of the rest of the policy, it could mean anything other than being exposed to "an individual you provide care for, an intimate partner or a household member" with COVID-19. In the case of "indirect exposure," employees are advised to "report to work as usual" if they don't have symptoms "unless otherwise directed by a medical professional."

Dollar General's COVID-19 policies are extremely limited. But most Dollar General workers appear completely unaware of even these paltry benefits. Of the 13 Dollar General workers who were in contact with Popular Information, only one was aware of any coronavirus-specific sick leave policy. 

Dollar General did not respond to telephone or email inquires from Popular Information.

What it's like to work at a Dollar General during a pandemic

A full-time employee at a Dollar General in the Midwest told Popular Information what it's like to go to work during the pandemic: 

Working at Dollar General through this pandemic is crazy! While everyone else is being told to stay home to protect themselves, we are told we need to work more! A majority of us have small kids at home so while we are being pushed to work as much as possible, not only are we being exposed to the community but finding ANY childcare at his point is also exposing our children to everything. There is soo much work that needs to be done and through all this, they keep adding more. We still get minimum wage, no talk of bonuses, no talk of paid time off, its still the "u call out, u get written up" talk. But who can afford to call out anyway? Due to schools being closed and having 3 children, I am now paying $200 a week for 3 days of daycare! The extra hours I am able to work doesn't even cover the new childcare costs. I am a single parent so I have to keep a job and I have to come up with the extra money alone. 

The employee was not aware of Dollar General's COVID-19 policy. They also said that all the employees at the store regularly come to work sick because "we don't have the crew for someone to miss." If someone calls in sick "then to get that shift covered, someone is most likely having to work from open to close or they are using their day off to work."

Another Dollar General employee shared their experience working at a store in Texas:

People flood the store on shipment day. We're working longer hours with no improvement to pay as far as I know… Constantly in contact with majority of the town [increases] our risk greatly. We're expecting to do more within the same time limit as before but now also have to deal with an increased customer base. People from bigger cities are coming to our small town and exploiting our limitations since they're a suggestion not enforced. 

A Dollar General worker in Ohio lives with an elderly relative with an underlying health condition and is deeply concerned about bringing COVID-19 home. Their efforts to take an unpaid leave of absence have, so far, been unsuccessful. Instead, they were told if they take time off, they would lose their job and not be rehired.

Life at the top of Dollar General

Dollar General is providing a $1 per hour raise for sales associates between March 21 and May 21. They also got this tweet. 

The situation is considerably better in the executive suite. In 2018, Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos was paid $10.6 million in total compensation. Four other Dollar General executives were paid in excess of $2.5 million. 

Photo credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr

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