Covid pays attention to US retailers’ sick leave policy

Major US retailers, including CVS and Target, are facing pressure from shareholders to disclose details of their paid sick leave policy – an issue rarely seen is a financial risk to companies but has come to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trillium, a $5.6 billion asset management company, has filed a shareholder proposal targeting pharmaceutical chain CVS, asking the company to accept and disclose a request that all of its employees take time off. sick pay. Trillium, one of the largest US fund managers that conducts investor campaigns, said the leave should not expire “or be subject to the persistence of a global pandemic”.

Earlier this month, CVS asked the US Securities and Exchange Commission to block the proposal. An agency ruling is expected in the next few weeks. CVS declined to comment.

Kroger, Target and TJ Maxx’s parent company also received proposals for paid sick leave from shareholders last week. Each petition argues that the lack of clear sick leave policies at these companies poses a reputational risk. The petition’s sponsors said:

Investor pressure comes as some major retailers have scaled back the paid leave benefits they made at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Walmart and Amazon, the country’s two largest private employers, are both introducing 10 days of paid sick leave for employees who test positive for Covid-19 in 2020.

But in January, Amazon reported reduction Its paid leave benefits up to 40 hours. Walmart also cut the paid leave it offers store associates from 10 days to 5 days in December after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slashed recommended isolation period for people who test positive for the virus. Neither company responded to requests for comment.

“It’s ironic that because there’s a new, highly contagious variant causing shortages, they wanted to,” said Adrian Valdes, who quit his job as a groomer at a PetSmart store in Savannah, Georgia. people spend less time at work.” of changing security protocols. “Sounds like putting profit above people. They don’t care about life running their business.”

According to a March 2021 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 78% of US private-sector workers receive paid sick leave, up from 75% the previous year. Last year, only half of part-time workers got sick leave, and the lowest-paid employees were the least likely to get paid sick leave, the report found.

In a statement, Target said it followed local and state mandates regarding additional paid sick leave and that it provided quarantine and confirmed sick pay.

TJ Maxx said it “compensates associates for time off related to Covid-19” and it follows the law regarding paid sick leave. Kroger did not respond to a request for comment.

Mendy Hughes, a Walmart cashier in Melbourne, Arkansas, says that Covid’s shortened leave policy has helped alleviate staff shortages. Usually, when one worker returns from sick leave, another leaves a few days later. Some days, she says her store has so few workers that only one or two people sign up to open at a time.

“People are going to work and I feel like they’re still sick,” Hughes said. “But they really have no choice but to go back to work.”

Several shareholder proposals for paid sick leave filed in 2021 failed to win support in the SEC and failed to gain votes from investors. But the SEC has changed its policy for shareholder proposals and will likely make it easier for investor petitions to be put to a vote in 2022.

Sanford Lewis, an attorney advising on shareholder proposals, said the new paid sick leave proposals “could be better under new SEC guidance”. “The pandemic has proven that paid sick leave is an important issue for workers,” he said. “Investors have good reason to think this is one of those social issues related to employee loyalty and lasting value.”

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