Walmart’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic: How lack of paid sick time prolongs the pandemic and increases mortality

April 2021

Research brief developed in partnership with United For Respect reveals that Walmart could have prevented at least 7,618 COVID-19 cases and saved 133 lives last year with an adequate paid sick time policy — and urges Walmart to institute an expanded and universally accessible paid leave policy for all employees.


No one should have to choose between going in to work while sick or risking wage loss and retaliation. But throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many Walmart employees – essential workers lacking an accessible or adequate paid sick time policy from their employer – have been forced to make that choice.

This research brief, created in partnership with United For Respect, reveals the tragic outcome of Walmart’s policy failure over the past year. Using a methodology from researchers at University of Wisconsin, we found that if Walmart had instituted an effective and accessible paid sick time policy before the pandemic, at least 7,618 fewer employees would have become sick with COVID-19 and at least 133 lives could have been saved.

Walmart must now take immediate action to support the health of employees and our broader communities by instituting an effective and accessible paid sick time policy for employees across the country. Paid sick time is a critical component of the COVID-19 recovery period, allowing employees to self-isolate, care for ill family, and schedule and attend vaccination appointments. Paid sick time also improves long-term health outcomes for employees and their families, and increases job retention and economic gains for employers.

Critically, as Walmart is the largest private employer of Black, Latinx, and women workers nationally — groups who are disproportionately denied access to adequate paid leave — the  positive implications of an effective paid sick time policy on health equity would be significant.

Workers have been telling Walmart management for years that we need paid sick leave so we’re not forced to come to work sick. This pandemic is not over yet, and Walmart’s paid leave policy gap is a life or death issue for workers and customers and a huge risk to the company.

—Cynthia Murray, Walmart associate

An effective and accessible paid sick leave policy at Walmart would have immediate and wide-ranging impacts on public health
  • Access to paid sick time saves lives:  Without universal paid sick time, thirteen additional Walmart employees will be at risk of COVID-19 death between April and July 2021 — unless the company takes immediate action.
  • Lack of paid sick leave exacerbates pandemics: Without paid sick leave, workers may not have the option to miss out on a paycheck. A study last year revealed that 94% of workers surveyed would comply with self-quarantine during COVID-19 when they were compensated for loss of income, whereas only 57% of employees would comply with the guidance if they weren’t compensated.
  • Paid sick time is critical for racial, gender, and economic equity: Because Walmart employs more women and Black and Latinx workers than any other US corporation, the positive outcomes associated with paid sick time would be far-reaching — to families and communities across the country, with benefits for gender, economic, and racial equity.
  • Paid sick time is beneficial for child health: Children whose parents have paid sick time are more likely to be current on their healthcare needs, like receiving their annual check-up and flu vaccine.
  • Employers benefit from paid sick time policies: Having established paid leave in place has been found to increase loyalty and morale amongst employees, and decrease turnover – all goals Walmart has alluded to, even in their recent decision to grant more employees full-time status.

Read the research brief

To learn more about this research, please contact Research Project Director Sukhdip Purewal Boparai at