Walmart cuts paid Covid leave in half, as CDC isolation guidance changes

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An employee scans grocery items for pickup order at a Walmart Inc. store in Burbank, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Walmart is cutting pandemic-related paid leave in half — from two weeks to one week — after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut isolation requirements last week for asymptomatic people with Covid and shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.

The big-box retailer, which is the country’s largest private employer, announced the policy change in a memo sent to employees on Tuesday, which was obtained on Wednesday by CNBC.

In the memo, the big-box retailer said that through March 31 it will provide paid time off for employees who are mandated to quarantine by a health care provider, government or Walmart or if they fail a health screening or test positive for Covid. It said employees who qualify will be paid for one week.

A Walmart spokesperson said employees qualify for the paid leave regardless of vaccination status.

Walmart is also asking corporate employees to continue to primarily work from home until Jan. 30, even though offices would remain open, the spokesperson said. The company had previously asked workers to work virtually until Monday.

Walmart is one of the first companies to announce changes in the wake of the CDC’s revised guidance — and its move could prompt others to revise paid leave policies, too. Last week, U.S. health officials said they would reduce the length of required isolation and quarantine to align with growing evidence that people are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop. The federal agency’s announcement came as many industries, including hospitals and airlines, struggled to keep operations going amid a surge in Covid-19 cases among staff.

Walmart and other retailers are navigating that complex backdrop — and a variety of challenges, including having more employees out sick or scrambling for child care as schools shift back to remote learning or shorten school days. That has exacerbated staffing shortages at some retailers and restaurants, inspiring shortened hours or temporary closures.

Walmart temporarily shut nearly 60 U.S. stores last month, which were located in coronavirus hotspots. Macy’s said this week that it would reduce hours this month across all of its stores for the rest of January. And others, including Apple and Starbucks, shuttered some locations.

The big-box retailer recently reinstated a mask requirement for all employees, regardless of vaccination status. It had dropped the requirement in May, saying fully vaccinated workers and customers no longer had to wear masks.

Starting Dec. 19, Walmart announced all employees must wear masks at all company facilities until further notice.

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