ILast summer Ernest Paschal II, 44, was fired from his job at a Walmart in Caroline from the south while recovering from sepsis. Paschal is a paraplegic due to a work accident he suffered when he was 19 and had his left leg amputated in 2019 due to a medical condition.
Like many critically ill American workers, Paschal found that some employers had little interest — and almost no incentive — in making accommodations for sick workers.
Nearly one in three American workers with a serious illness end up losing their job or have to change jobs because of their illness. The United States is one of only a few countries in the world without paid national leave.
Last summer at work, Paschal began to feel nauseous and had trouble staying conscious, and was fired from work. He later learned, after a visit to the doctor, that he was septica life-threatening condition where the body reacts more actively to an infection.
While recovering from sepsis, Paschal informed his illness and recovery managers, but noticed that he was still receiving “presence points”. At Walmart, workers are subject to a disciplinary attendance point system where points are awarded for leaving work early, arriving late and any absence, even if excused for medical illness. Workers with too many attendance points can miss out on raises, promotions, or be fired.
“Even if you’re sick, they don’t care,” Paschal said. “It’s unfair the way they treat people.”
Instead of apologizing for his absences, Paschal said his management referred him to request time off through a third-party company that handles such requests. walmart employees. The company told him he was not eligible for sick leave, and while trying to determine the status of an accommodation request he had filed with Walmart, he discovered that Walmart had fired him.
“It touched me a lot. My children were going back to school just before I let me go. I couldn’t buy clothes or school supplies for them, then when Christmas came around, I had no money for Christmas,” Paschal added. “I am disabled and trying to work to take care of my family, then not having a job or money to take care of them has crushed me. They just took it away from me for something I had no control over.
Thanks to A Better Balance, a nonprofit labor advocacy group, Paschal deposit a charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission challenging his dismissal, alleging he violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A Walmart spokesperson said in an email: ‘We do not tolerate discrimination, and we provide thousands of associates across the company with reasonable accommodations where appropriate. Our attendance policy complies with applicable law and we dispute any claims to the contrary. We only recently received the accusation and will review and respond appropriately. »
A better balance has long criticized Wal-Mart, the largest employer in the United States, on the punishment of workers for medical absences through its disciplinary attendance point system and filed a complaint trial challenge the company’s attendance policy, as part of broader efforts to ensure family and medical leave and mandatory paid vacations for all workers in the United States.
Currently under the Family and Medical Leave Act, about 40% of all American workers are not eligible for unpaid leave and many workers cannot afford to use leave because it is unpaid, with low-income workers disproportionate without access to short-term disability insurance through their employer. More than 60% of low-wage American workers do not have access to paid sick leave at work.
It took several attempts to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993 and the legislation was rewritten to include several compromises, said Sherry Leiwant, co-chair of A Better Balance. While the legislation was seen as an important first step in securing furlough for American workers, Leiwant said the law needed to be expanded and modernized to reflect the current workforce.
“We really need to modernize the law on family and medical leave, so that it really serves everyone in this country. I think there’s a greater recognition, especially with so many women in the workforce, that when you have a child you have to take time off, if you have a serious illness you should be able to take a furlough and you shouldn’t have to lose your job to do it,” Leiwant said.
“It makes an incredible difference for a worker who is going to have a child, for a worker who has a dying parent, for a worker who has a serious illness who does not want to lose his job and who just wants to take the time he needs. and then go back to work.
She cited the fact that many workers are currently excluded from the legislation because it only applies to large employers and requires a minimum time on the job to be eligible, which does not take into account workers who hold several jobs. part-time or in industries. where turnover is high.
In 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic sparked a push for federally mandated paid sick leave to be included in the Build Back Better Act, but the Invoice never made it through the US Senate.
There are signs of change at the state level. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have pass paid vacation policies, with several other states currently considering paid vacation legislation for workers. Efforts continue to pass a paid leave policy at the federal level and expand the current family and medical leave law to cover more workers, but a shift in national policy seems unlikely with today’s divided Congress.
“It’s not fair, it’s not fair to put American workers in the position of having to choose between their jobs or their economic security and taking care of their families or taking care of themselves,” added Leiwant. “Every other economically developed country has a paid family medical leave program where people can take time off and have a salary. There is so much time for us to do that in this country.