This week, Popular Information has reported how two major grocery chains — Kroger and Whole Foods — have expanded paid sick leave only to two very narrowly defined groups.
Kroger will provide an additional two weeks of paid sick leave only to workers who are "diagnosed with COVID-19" or "placed under mandatory quarantine by their medical provider or by a public health authority because of COVID-19." Similarly, Amazon, the parent company of Whole Foods, will provide additional paid sick leave only to workers who are "diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine."
Most workers will not benefit from this policy. There are few tests available for any American to be diagnosed with COVID-19. And Americans with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are being asked to self-quarantine. Few people are being "placed" into a "mandatory" quarantine.
If you wake up feeling sick, even with symptoms typical of COVID-19, these policies will not help you. If you need to care for someone in your household who is not well, these policies will not help you.
These policies put workers and customers in danger because both Kroger and Whole Foods employ a significant number of workers who, absent this policy, have no access to paid sick leave.
But there is at least one grocery chain that is offering its workers a far more generous policy. Publix operates more than 1200 locations across the South and employs about 193,000 people. Popular Information obtained the Publix coronavirus policy, which was released internally on Wednesday, from one of those workers.
Publix provides paid sick leave to its full-time employees but is providing up to 80 hours of additional "emergency pandemic pay" to full-time employees. Part-time Publix employees, who typically do not receive paid sick leave, are eligible for a comparable two-week benefit. The length of the benefit for part-time employees is equal to their average weekly hours worked in 2020.
Publix is providing this additional paid sick leave to workers who meet any of these criteria:
Diagnosed with coronavirus.
Experiencing symptoms of coronavirus (fever, sore throat with fever, upper respiratory illness)
Recommended by a health care provider or regulatory/government body to self-quarantine due to potential risk to public health (including to care for or assist a family member who has been diagnosed with coronavirus or experiencing symptoms)
Self-quarantined due to travel to an area with a moderate or high infection rate; will be based on the timing of the travel and if aligned with a CDC travel advisory.
Notably, this policy is not the same as paid sick leave. It does not allow workers to stay home (and still get paid) if they aren't feeling well for any reason. And Publix workers tell Popular Information that there is some confusion about how it will be implemented. But it does represent a major improvement over the much more limited policies offered by Kroger and Whole Foods.
The Publix policy empowers its workers to protect customers and their own health. If Publix workers believe they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, they are able to stay home and have confidence they can get paid. It does not require them to test positive for COVID-19. It also allows Publix workers to self-quarantine based on the advice of their doctor or guidelines produced by the government. It does not require them to obtain a formal mandate to quarantine.
Critically, Publix workers can get access to paid leave if they need to stay home to take care of a family member who is quarantined or experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
In contrast, the restrictive policies of Kroger and Whole Foods require proof through a test or a quarantine order before workers can take any action.
Yesterday, Kroger lashed out at Popular Information. The company said this newsletter's accurate reporting on Kroger's sick leave policy only "serves to divide people at a time when we should all be pulling together to manage this public health crisis."
The company knows it's under public scrutiny and will be held accountable for its actions. And that's a very powerful thing.
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Last week, Popular Information's reporting resulted in Darden, the parent company of Olive Garden, providing paid sick leave to 170,000 employees. The week before, Popular Information's reporting forced Facebook to remove over 1,000 misleading Trump campaign ads.
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Where Publix falls short
Publix paid sick leave policies are far from a panacea. First, apart from COVID-19, part-time employees are not afforded paid sick time. COVID-19 is not the only virus that puts workers and customers at risk. Part-time workers are still incentivized to come to work if they are afflicted with any other illness.
Full-time workers also are denied sick leave until they've worked at Publix an entire year. Here is a portion of the Publix internal sick leave policy, which was obtained by Popular Information.
Policies that are targeted at COVID-19 are not a substitute for true paid sick leave. Eventually, COVID-19 will become less of a concern, but workers will still need to take care of themselves (and their families) and protect the public from a variety of illnesses.
Senate finally approves House bill
On Wednesday, the Senate finally approved a bill that was passed by the House a week ago to address the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation, which is expected to be quickly signed into law by Trump, provides paid sick leave, but employers with more than 500 employees are exempted. It provides workers with a benefits package that is far more generous than what Publix — and virtually every other large corporation — is offering to its employees.
[B]usinesses with fewer than 500 employees [must] provide two weeks of paid leave, with an additional 10 weeks of leave at two-thirds pay for workers...
Those in quarantine, those caring for stricken family members and those who have children whose schools or day-care centers have closed would be eligible for the initial two weeks of paid leave. The smaller businesses would also have to pay an additional 10 weeks of leave at two-thirds pay for people who have lost their child care because of school and day-care closures.
These businesses will be compensated for this new benefit through a tax credit. Large employers are presumably exempt because of the assumption that they already provide sufficient paid sick leave to their employees. But that is clearly not the case. Nearly 80% of American workers are not covered by the new law.
Congress is now working on a stimulus measure that is expected to top $1 trillion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Democrats would push for expanded paid sick leave to be included in the legislation. It is unclear if that push would include expanding the paid sick leave guarantee to employees of larger companies.
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