Friday, November 3, 2006

Wal-Mart Cracks Down On Tardiness

There’s a line from a Bruce Springsteen song that goes “One step up, two steps back.” In my mind, it could well serve as the play by play for Wal-Mart. The chain has been working mightily this past year to improve its image. But for every positive action or good deed, it seems to take two steps backward.

Sometimes it’s Wal-Mart’s own doing, as when it followed up the news of its improved health-care coverage with the news that it would stop offering traditional low-deductible health plans for new hires in favor of low-premium plans with much higher deductibles. Other times, it’s inadvertent, as when one of the consultants it hired to help polish its image was found to be the mastermind behind a controversial ad for a GOP senate candidate that some found to have racial overtones.

Wal-Mart took another step back, at least in my mind, this past week when news of its revisited attendance policy leaked out. The new rules hold Wal-Mart Stores’ hourly employees more accountable for excessive unexcused absences and formalize penalties for the same—being 10 minutes or later for work three times will earn an employee a demerit, and could eventually lead to termination. And while in the past, general bad weather would suffice as an authorized excuse, only natural disasters such as blizzards or hurricanes now qualify.

In addition, employees must now call an 800 number to report all absences and tardiness by an hour before their scheduled start time. They also have to call their manager with the confirmation code they received by calling the hot line. Previously, employees got permission directly from their store managers.

I understand that a company of Wal-Mart’s size needs to be strict about tardiness and to hold employees accountable. But I also think a company of its size needs to be flexible. There is precious little flexibility in Wal-Mart’s new policy. Under its old policy, Wal-Mart store managers approved absences on a case-by-case basis. The new policy is far more rigid and treats all employees the same. While I’m all for fairness, the fact is that employees are individuals and deserve to be treated as such.

As for the weather, I always considered it an act of nature beyond our control. Apparently, Wal-Mart doesn’t. My local Wal-Mart employs a good number of older workers, I wonder how they will fare once the bad weather hits when it comes to getting to work on time. People shouldn’t have to put themselves in danger (and believe me, even a few inches of snow can make for nasty driving) because they fear having it count against them on their record.

— Marianne Wilson