Walmart expands virtual health benefits; Washington Post offers buyouts to cut headcount

This week the nation's largest employer announced big upgrades to its health benefits package; meanwhile, the loss-making Washington Post has begun offering staff buyouts to reduce headcount

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Oct 12, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Walmart expands virtual healthcare benefits

Retail giant, Walmart has this week announced that it is to expand it virtual doctor offerings, moving it from occasional sickness visits, to giving staff and their families the option to develop long-standing relationships with doctors across the country. As part of the expansion it will broaden the issues staff can have consultations on, to include virtual care options for digestive health. Physical therapy will also be available. The initial introduction of virtual doctors came following its own research in 2019 which found 50% of its associates and their family members were not seeing primary care physicians – with a big part of this due to access issues. After launching a virtual primary care pilot to three states in 2020, it expanded the pilot to 16 states, then again to 21 states in 2023. A Walmart spokesperson said: “As the nation’s largest private employer and a major investor in the health and well-being of associates, we are all too familiar with the challenges our associates face and the misalignment between the need for primary care and the supply. “ It added: “Most virtual health care benefits are available at no cost to associates and their families.” Owen Tripp, CEO of Included Health, Walmart’s health care partner for the virtual primary care expansion, stated: “Over the past three and a half years, Walmart has tested and validated the role of virtual care beyond simple sick needs. Against national primary care shortages, rural health care deserts, and persistent price growth, Walmart has continued to move health care forward.”

Washington Post offers staff ‘buyouts’ to reduce headcount…

Unmet, and over-optimistic advertising targets are reportedly responsible for the Washington Post being forced to axe 240 roles over the next 12 months. In an email to staff from CEO, Patty Stonesifer, said the reduction in headcount was needed “to return our business to a healthier place in the coming year.” To avoid what Stonesifer calls “more difficult actions such as layoffs – a situation we are united in trying to avoid,” the Washington Post is said to be offering buyouts to staff in specific jobs and departments. The announcement of big cuts comes less than a year after its newsroom was reduced by 50 positions, including 20 layoffs. According to the New York Times, however, The Post is set to lose $100 million this year. Leaders of the Washington Post Guild, the union representing Post employees, are said to have only learned about the buyouts through the staff-wide email. In a statement, the Guild blamed “a litany of poor business decisions at the top of our company.” It added: ““We cannot comprehend how The Post, owned by one of the richest people in the world, has decided to foist the consequences of its incoherent business plan and irresponsibly rapid expansion onto the hardworking people who make this company run.”

…as Washington state raises its minimum wage – becoming highest in US

Washington state’s minimum wage will yet again be the highest in America, after officials there agreed to raise it by 3.4% to reach $16.28 per hour. The new wage applies to all workers over the age of 16, and translates to workers receiving an extra 54c per hour. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries calculated the new wage based on the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. L&I compares the CPI-W index from August of the previous year to August of the current year to make the calculation. L&I has also calculated new minimum salary requirements for managers and other employees who are exempt from overtime rules. The 2024 minimum salary for overtime-exempt employees is $67,724.80 a year, two times what a full-time minimum-wage worker earns. Washington’s current minimum wage of $15.74 an hour — up $1.25 from 2021 — is already the highest state-level minimum wage in the nation, according to state labor officials. Cities in Washington can actually set minimum wages that are higher than this, which is the case in Seattle, SeaTac and Tukwila. Seattle’s minimum wage is $18.69 an hour for most workers. SeaTac’s is $19.06. The federal minimum hourly wage, unchanged since 2009, is $7.25.

US restaurant employment surpasses pre-Covid levels

The extra 60,700 jobs added in eating and drinking establishments in September alone has helped push the total number of people employed in the restaurant sector in America to beyond pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Numbers employed now surpass the high of February 2020, which was in the weeks leading up to Covid-19, and before eateries starting shedding jobs. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, one in four people who got laid off worked in a restaurant. The news comes as other data reveals that even factoring in inflation, restaurant sales increased by 1.8% from August 2022 to August 2023. In August 2023 alone though, nationwide restaurant sales hit $90.8 billion, up 0.3% from July’s $90.5 billion. Earlier this year, Forbes reported that fine dining restaurant reservations had returned to pre-pandemic levels. At establishments across the board, 27% of foodies said they’ve been patronizing restaurants more often than they used to. It is believed working in hospitality is finally becoming more attractive. Last week Chicago’s City Council voted to eliminate the tip credit, meaning the city’s tipped restaurant workers will receive the same minimum wage as any other industry employee, before tips.

Fired worker wins nearly 100k after body-scanning equipment mistook tampon for contraband

Judges have awarded a Virginia woman $85,000 for sex discrimination after being fired for “suspicion of contraband” because she wore a tampon at work. Joyce Flores, a dental hygienist at the Virginia Department of Correction’s Augusta Correctional Center, was scanned before entering the building and was told by security that they suspected her of smuggling contraband into the facility. Despite explaining she was menstruating, and that the object was a tampon, she was later that day subjected to a second and third scan. When told the object looked different, she explained this was the case because she had changed her tampon. Two weeks later, she was fired, and Flores sued that her employer had “intentionally discriminated against her on the basis of sex.” It found she was entitled to $93,808 in back pay, plus 6% annual prejudgment interest accruing from her termination date of July 31, 2019. Flores was also awarded $147,842.50 in attorneys’ fees and $17,045.22 in costs.

Employees fed up with being made to feel guilty about calling in sick

If being ill wasn’t bad enough, sick employees are suffering the added stress and anxiety from being made to feel guilty about calling in sick. So finds new research from Bamboo HR – which finds 90% of US workers say they have worked through sickness over the past 12 months, with 65% of workers saying they experience “stress, anxiety, guilt or fear” when requesting sick time from their employer. Worse still, the data finds that 35% of workers report being either pressured or explicitly asked to work – even while they’re off sick. It also finds 80% of managers are skeptical of sickness requests. Commenting on the figures, Anita Grantham, head of human resources at Bamboo HR told CBS MoneyWatch: “People are getting sick and they’re deciding they’re going to work through sickness.” She added: “In the salaried workforce people are feeling taxed. It’s a tough environment with no economic relief in sight and there’s no federalized support or care. That leads to a compounding effect which we’re seeing in the data. People are going to work because they need their jobs, they need their benefits.”

51 reasons why staff prefer to work at home

HRDs take note: there’s one very big reason why staff are prioritizing working from home rather than the office – and it’s all to do with money. Owl Lab’s ‘State of Work’ report finds staff spend an extra $51 per day when they work in-person – spending money on everything form lunch ($16); commuting ($14); parking ($8) and breakfast/coffee ($13). On average, it reveals that workers who report to the office five days a week spend about $1,020 every month. By comparison, employees who have a hybrid schedule spend less than half of this ($408 a month), on office attendance costs. “There’s no question” working from the office is “wildly more expensive” today than it was pre-pandemic, Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, told CNBC. The report finds that to compensate for this, staff want higher pay, and better career opportunities to offset these higher costs. Without them, the report found 4% of workers polled said they would quit their jobs entirely, while 42% said they would look for another job which had greater flexibility.

This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.
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