- Politics and Social Issues
Wal-Mart Policy Change Impacting Physically Challenged Employees
Physical Limitations Can Be Cause For Termination.
I recently spoke with a Wal-Mart employee who was placed on unpaid leave pending a physical examination. This employee indicated that she was placed on this leave after she worked two shifts without being able to sit down every ten minutes. She stated that she provided a doctors order explaining her physical limitations to the Human Resources Office when she was hired and has since provided updated documentation for any changes in her health. A recent policy change at all Wal-Mart stores prevents this woman from sitting while on the sales floor, a "reasonable accommodation" promised to her when she was hired. All chairs and stools have been removed from all Wal-Mart sales floors to keep employees from sitting while in view of customers. Apparently, employees seen sitting while on the sales floor is viewed by customers as "laziness" and Wal-Mart has reacted by not allowing any employee to sit while working on the sales floor.
Wal-Mart takes great pride in boasting how much they do for the Disabled community. However, for an employee to receive a "reasonable accommodation" to be able to perform assigned job duties, they need to be legally disabled, meaning that they have to meet the definition of disability as described by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In order for an employee to meet the criterion for a disability they must have assistance in completing daily living activities (ADL's). In short, if you want to be able to sit while working the sales floor at Wal-Mart, you must be in a wheelchair.
Wal-Mart also takes pride in hiring senior citizens, this article is describing the actions taken towards a senior citizen that was hired by Wal-Mart with full disclosure about the employee's physical limitations. Wal-Mart promised that this employee's limitations would be kept in mind when being assigned her duty position. She was assigned to the fitting room area where her assigned duties were to monitor telephones, assist customers with clothing needs, restock clothing as needed from the fitting rooms and the racks unwanted clothing is placed on. She explained that she could easily perform these functions, if she was tired she could sit on the stool behind the telephone desk. With this new policy,when she become tired and needs to rest she can no longer do so because the stool has been removed.
With the current economy, most businesses have had to cut back on expenses, one way was to reduce the number of excess personnel. Employees from different departments are assigned tasks to assist other departments who are shorthanded due to a call off, excessive inventory, and/or high customer volume. In these situations, the above referenced employee was instructed to perform tasks in other departments that were beyond her physical abilities. This employee has a documented ten pound weight limitation, she was being assigned tasks such as stocking pallets of water, large cases of canned goods, placing automobile batteries on battery racks, placing bicycles on racks both at floor level and on overhead racks, and moving large electronic devices such as televisions and computer boxes. All of these assigned tasks were performed by this employee in one shift, in addition to her regular duties in her assigned department.
When asked why she performed tasks exceeding her abilities, she stated that she and others with limitations like hers are often told that they will be fired if they do not complete assigned tasks. She also indicated that she often has a significant reduction in hours if she complains or asks to be assigned to a task with less physical requirements. She then went on to quote some of the responses she is given by the manager assigning the tasks. Responses range from, "do you want this job", to " you can do what your told or I will find someone else who can". Fear of losing her job or losing significant working hours forces this woman and others like her to perform tasks that may cause severe injury and increase risk of work place accidents. This woman has also indicated that she has told members of management that she will hurt herself or damage inventory because she cannot lift or carry heavy items. She was told that if she damages inventory, she will be terminated, and if she is injured, she will be denied workman's compensation and/or any disability claims.
While I cannot prove the validity of her accusations, I have been to several Wal-Mart stores and observed the absence of any type of seating within the sales floor, to include benches that were placed for customer use between the grocery and clothing departments in all of the stores I visited. I have also overheard conversations between employees in various areas of the stores as well as employees on break in the designated smoking areas and in-store restaurants. These conversations almost always include topics such as recently fired employees, reduced hours, denied workers compensation or disability claims, and someone being removed from the shift logs but has not been "officially" fired. Almost every employee is a single parent, uneducated, or timid senior citizen (usually widowed, uneducated, and low income men and women) and they often share their own concerns such reduced hours, fear of termination, illness, and injuries received while on the clock at Wal-Mart with each other.
Wal-Mart has a detailed track record of accusations concerning the mistreatment of employees, refusing to compensate injured employees, and unwarranted terminations. The court system is full of lawsuits that are often adjudicated in Wal-Mart's favor. When asked why they have not taken legal action against Wal-Mart for the actions taken against them, the response is always "Wal-Mart is too powerful, there isn't anything anyone can do to Wal-Mart.
If you are going to be employed at Wal-Mart and you have a physical limitation, be prepared to perform tasks that may place you at risk of physical injury and further complications to existing health conditions. There are no accommodations for anyone that is not disabled in accordance with the criteria as listed in the Disability Act. You must also be aware of your State Laws concerning hiring and firing. Some States have "At Will Employment" laws, which means that a company can hire and fire employees when ever they want with no reason or warning. Wal-Mart is an "At Will Employer", they can and do fire personnel at will for no reason. Read all of the documents you fill out, as well as, the documents you are required to read when filling out an application at an in-store kiosk and on-line. The problem is that not many people read these documents and sign them agreeing to the terms and conditions of their employment without knowing what they have signed.
The woman mentioned in this article, was hired with full disclosure of her health conditions, she can still be fired but she is in a situation where civil litigation may be an option for her, if she had the money to sue. She has limited resources, no education, and limited job experience. Her inadequacies, health condition, and age limit her employment options. She cannot afford to retire, her Social Security Income is less than $500 a month. She is totally compliant to Wal-Mart because she needs the income. When she has her physical, she will most likely have a health issue that was not disclosed or has worsened and she will be terminated once she provides the required documentation to Human Resources.
While I have sympathy for this woman because of her employment situation, she does not appropriately self advocate. I provided advice and resources for her to utilize to seek new job skills and employment, but she was not receptive to the information provided to her. She feels that Wal-Mart will continue to employ her even though she cannot lift heavy items, bend and stoop, stand for longer than ten minutes at a time. She claimed to have carpal tunnel disease and she cannot type (or even use a computer), she is missing her two front teeth making it diffucult for others to understand what she is saying when she speaks. Her plan is to keep working until she gets injured and can file for workman's compensation or disability. She is also overly religious. Her preferred religion is rather unorthodox and she has an uncontrollable urge to preach to people when ever she can. This woman is also not the kind of person you want to ask, "How are you doing?". She will tell you everything wrong with her as well as everything that she needs such as money or other material items. I personally would not hire her for the position Wal-Mart hired her for, although she explained that her missing front teeth is a new issue. Her partial dentures broke and she cannot afford to fix them. She asked me for the money to fix them among other requests.
After speaking with her in-depth on multiple occasions, she did not accept any advice. I told her as bluntly as possible to seek new employment with the resources I provided her, because she was going to get fired when she reports to Wal-Mart with her physical results. This physical is their legal way of firing her without fear of getting sued. Her response was, "If they fire it must be for a reason, there is a reason for everything in Jehovah's great plan." "The reign of man will soon be over anyway." So what will most likely happen is she will get fired, collect unemployment for as long as she can and Wal-Mart will not be held responsible for its actions.