WorkLife Law Blog

WorkLife Law aims to end Family Responsibilities Discrimination, which is employment discrimination against workers who have family caregiving obligations. It includes discrimination against parents of young children, pregnant women, and workers who have aging or sick parents, spouses, or partners.

Friday, January 05, 2007


WalMart Even More Family-UNfriendly

When I saw the headlines about WalMart moving to flexible scheduling, I was elated to think that it might have finally decided to become a leader in the work/life arena -- but only until I read the story and saw that what WalMart is actually doing is undermining any sort of work/life balance for its employees. Here's a bit of the story, from the Wall Street Journal:

[U]sing a new computerized scheduling system, [WalMart] will start moving many of its 1.3 million workers from predictable shifts to a system based on the number of customers in stores at any given time. The move promises greater productivity and customer satisfaction for the huge retailer but could be a major headache for employees.

It is hard to imagine a schedule that will be harder on employees, particularly employees with family caregiving responsibilities. How are parents supposed to arrange daycare? They'll never know sufficiently far in advance if they'll be working or not. How are employees with sick or aging parents supposed to schedule doctor's appointments for their parents? How is anyone, caregiver or not, supposed to have a life? Moreover, the system allows employees to be sent home if there aren't enough shoppers in the store to justify their presence -- what is this fluctuating number of work hours going to do to the paychecks of employees who rely on their income from WalMart jobs to pay their rent?

Unfortunately, WalMart is apparently not the only retailer to have this type of policy. But as the largest employer, and with its history of employee abuses, it cannot hide behind a "but everyone else does it" justification. I understand that a retailer needs to have employees working during peak shopping periods, but I don't understand why a store can't predict those peak periods and give employees advance schedules that meet those predictions. This new system is trying to shift the burdens of inaccurately predicting shopper patterns from management's shoulders to the employees' shoulders.

If I were an attorney advising employees, I'd look at whether it might be possible for employees to challenge these schedules as having a disparate impact on women, given that women still do most of the caregiving in this country, or as violating the D.C. or Alaska statutes that prohibit discrimination based on family responsibilities/parental status.

If I were an attorney advising WalMart, I'd look not only at potential lawsuits, but also at the huge costs that are surely to come as a result of high attrition. In addition to all the administrative costs and the unemployment benefits that will have to be paid when employees terminate, WalMart is going to have a harder time recruiting and will have to train new employees and suffer reductions in productivity as all these new people get up to speed. And can you imagine what the morale is going to be like in these stores? The level of morale and the level of customer service are closely tied, which could well lead to fewer people wanting to shop at WalMart... yeah, this was a real bright idea.

-- Cynthia

To be upfront, I happen to be associated with Asgard Systems, who are publishers of employee scheduling software. We are not the suppliers of Wal-Mart’s employee scheduling software and are on unaware of what product they are using.

Even if Wal-Mart (0r any employer) used a pencil and paper to produce their employee schedules, they might still implement policies and procedures that could be viewed as promoting their own corporate interests. The promotional literature that we provide regarding our product, does directly address organizational scheduling needs. However, such needs include taking the employees personal life into perspective as well. An example is the priority given to personal conflicting events such as night school, taking care of sick parents, weddings etc. Such issues are promoted at our website (, in our free trial version and our instructional movies. I am very pleased to say that, most employers express the need of having to contend with the humanistic aspects of managing an organization. Their needs dictate our products.
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