Eleven states and the District of Columbia warned Walmart on Tuesday that they believe the company is failing to protect workers and customers during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, a dozen attorneys general said they were “concerned that Walmart has not taken adequate steps” to prevent the spread of the virus inside its stores.
They cited complaints from workers who said they weren’t notified about potential exposure to colleagues with the virus or felt pressure to work “even if they are sick or symptomatic.”
“Our offices continue to receive reports of overcrowded stores and a general failure by Walmart to implement measures to ensure that customers and employees maintain a distance of six feet from each other, and to monitor compliance with such measures,” the attorneys general wrote.
They also said they had received reports from the public that Walmart had failed to adequately sanitize its stores, “even after learning of confirmed COVID-19 cases in its workforce.”
The group asked that Walmart commit to enforcing social distancing inside its stores and to taking particular steps in the event of a confirmed or likely case of COVID-19. The letter was spearheaded by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
Walmart said in a statement sent to HuffPost late Tuesday that it was taking action to keep workers and customers safe during the pandemic, including requiring face coverings for all employees, doing temperature checks before shifts, limiting store hours and installing plexiglass shields inside stores.
“While it may be impossible to track the source of anyone’s infection, what we are seeing is that the health of our associates tends to track the health of the country as a whole,” the company said. “That’s why we are working in partnership with local health officials and are taking proactive steps to help ensure the safety of our associates and customers.”
The attorneys general also called on the giant retailer to voluntarily meet the minimum paid leave requirements laid out in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That law, passed by Congress in March, sets paid leave mandates for many businesses but excludes large employers like Walmart.
Walmart said that in addition to normal sick days, employees are eligible for coronavirus-specific leave if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been advised to quarantine by medical personnel. But the policy does not specifically cover workers who may be immunocompromised or have recently been in contact with someone who was ill. Several employees recently told HuffPost that they still felt pressured to come into work even though they feared getting sick.
Cindy Murray, a Walmart worker with the advocacy group United for Respect, applauded the attorneys general for sending the letter, saying in a statement that it “validated what Walmart associates have been saying from day one of the pandemic: Walmart is not prioritizing our health, the health of our families, or our customers.”
Like other grocers and many retailers, Walmart has remained open throughout the pandemic as an essential business selling necessities, though at a reduced capacity. Several of its stores have been forced to temporarily close due to coronavirus outbreaks, including one location in Worcester, Massachusetts, where more than 80 employees tested positive.
Nonetheless, the pandemic-induced lockdown has proved to be a sales bonanza for Walmart, as Americans hit the stores and hunkered down. The company saw its fastest sales growth in nearly two decades during the most recent quarter.