Are you subject to an “absence control program” at your job?

The phrase used in human resource circles is an “absence control program.” It’s a program in which employees receive demerits company-determined infractions such as an absence or being late for a shift. If a worker accumulates too many demerits or “points,” s/he is fired.

I worked at a restaurant job in the 1980’s with this kind of program. Many absences such as having car trouble or calling in sick were considered excused absences by our managers so many of us never received any “points.”

But what I’ve been learning lately about these programs illustrates how some of them completely disregard the realities of life: individuals get sick, their kids get sick, car accidents happen, pregnant women need prenatal care, the bus or subway breaks down, asthma exacerbates, the apartment is vandalized. All of these and more are reasons why an employee may need to miss work.

I wrote previously about the poultry company, Wayne Farms, who fired employees for missing work to see their doctor for work-related injuries. The workers—one was a 17 year employee of the company—accumulated too many “points” for absences. With the legal assistance of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Wayne Farms for violating the Americans with Disability Act.

Last week, a whopper of a report describes Walmart’s “absence control program.” If you work at Walmart, there’s practically no way to have an excused absence. No matter why a worker has to miss work, s/he is going to get “points.”

The report is based on input from more than 1,000 current and former Walmart employees. It echos, in much greater detail, what I’ve heard from poultry and meatpacking workers about the “point systems” at their plants. Workers are kept in the dark about how the system actually works. How many points do I get for what infractions? How many points do I currently have? How long are points on my record? “Misterioso” is the word a poultry worker used when talking to me about the system at her plant.

The report, “Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences,” tries to shed some light on Walmart’s point system. It was researched and written by A Better Balance, an organization that works to promote policies that allow individuals to care for their families without sacrificing their livelihood. “Pointing Out” contains two main parts. The first is example after example of Walmart workers describing the situations in which they received “points.”

“I got into a car wreck on my way to work and was sent by ambulance to the hospital. I had two fractured ribs and a concussion.” …The front manager then said that they wouldn’t accept the doctor’s note from the hospital, and they fired me for missing that day.”

And this one:

“My appendix ruptured while at work and because I already had eight points, I could not leave work to go to the ER without pointing out and losing my job. I should have been able to leave to go to the ER and not worry about losing my job. I had even said to management, ‘So if I fall out because of my appendix and have to go out in an ambulance…I will get a point and lose my job?’ The response from management was, ‘Yes.’”

And this one:

“I was vomiting blood and had to go to the ER. I was there for two days and each day was a point. I then had two days off, and I brought my hospital notes in when I went back. They would not accept them.”

And this one:

“I’ve requested off more than three weeks ahead of time for my or my daughter’s doctor’s appointments. But when I am unable to make it to work, I am still punished even though I not only requested off but also brought it to a manager’s attention.”

There are dozens more like these in the report.

Walmart employees can learn about the “absence control program” on the company’s private intranet system while at work. They can’t read the full policy off-site or print it on-site to read later. (I don’t know whether there is a formal way to request a paper copy.) The report makes clear that Walmart workers have great difficulty figuring out which policies apply to them. Here is some of what the authors have been able to discern:

  • An employee with less than six months on the job is terminated after accumulating 4 points.
  • An employee with more than six months on the job is terminated for accumulating 9 points in a six-month rolling period.
  • An employee gets 1 point for working less than half a scheduled shift.
  • An employee who calls in 45 minutes before their shift to say they need to miss work gets 4 points.

Only being able to read the policy on the company’s intranet system is ridiculous. I got hung up thinking about that, but the report’s authors reminded me of something much worse and likely illegal. The company’s “absence control program” may run afoul of state and federal laws including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That’s what covered in the second part of the report. It’s a very informative presentation of applicable laws and the ways that Walmart may be violating them. For example, it is the employer’s responsibility to give workers notice of their FMLA rights, whether they are covered by the FMLA (e.g., determined by hours worked), and how to obtain additional information. The experiences of Walmart workers which are highlighted in the report indicate that this kind of notice isn’t happening at some or many of Walmart’s stores.

A Better Balance is providing an important public service exposing this ridiculous Walmart program. These kind of policies adversely affect the health of individuals and families and consequences for their communities.

Do you work at a job with a “point system”? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. #1 Kevin
    NY
    June 8, 2017

    “But what I’ve been learning lately about these programs illustrates how some of them completely disregard the realities of life: individuals get sick, their kids get sick, car accidents happen, pregnant women need prenatal care, the bus or subway breaks down, asthma exacerbates, the apartment is vandalized. All of these and more are reasons why an employee may need to miss work.”

    But that is why they have point(s), and not point! In all of your examples, I bet if you went and checked the employee history, there’d be other absences that don’t tug at your emotions. They missed five days because they didn’t feel like working, but when they miss the sixth because they have the flu- the program is so unfair.

    “Only being able to read the policy on the company’s intranet system is ridiculous. I got hung up thinking about that,…”

    How else can they control it so only the most recent- and in affect- policy is displayed? If I printed it out, 6 months later it was changed, and I refer to it after that, my info would be wrong.

  2. #2 Mentifex (Arthur T. Murray)
    Seattle WA USA
    June 8, 2017

    It is time to boycott Walmart.

  3. #3 David
    Atlanta, GA
    June 17, 2017

    My last 16 years in university dining have taught me that kind or lenient attendance policies get abused and end up as slippery slopes. I’m not suggesting that employers like Walmart have kind or lenient policies, but I wonder how many absences prior to the car accident or appendix attack occurred because someone “didn’t feel like working” was hung over, or had other things they wanted to do. I’ve seen a (six month rolling) thirty hour cushion of unexcused absences abused by people who want to party, attend concerts, or vacation, instead of coming to work. Then they get angry at being let go for finally being truly sick, but having no wiggle room left.
    At one institution we allowed employees to be 10 minutes late before they were designated tardy; at 6 tardies (in a rolling six months) they were terminated. We lost good employees to this slippery slope.
    A fellow supervisor bemoaned the loss of his best student crew leader: “Dave, the worst thing is, she was only one minute late on her last two tardies…”
    I corrected him gently. “No Hugh, she was late to work every day she worked for us. One to nine minutes late every single day, and her last two tardies weren’t one minute late, they were eleven.”

  4. #4 A VERY Concerned Person
    Ohio
    September 25, 2017

    I have recently learned that with our point system at work, even when our child is bleeding non-stop and must be rushed to the ER, or if we have a funeral to attend we are pointed. Other examples: ANY EMERGENCY WE ARE POINTED – EVEN WHEN PTO IS USED!!!!!!!
    I feel there should be some ethics or morals or common sense used with these ridiculous scare tactics to control people. This is absolutely ridiculous and this system needs to be used the right way, not the wrong way.