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Walmart offers paid sick leave to its 1.1 million hourly workers

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Retailing giant Walmart is giving hourly workers paid time off in the U.S., nationalizing a policy that conforms with an increasing number of cities and states mandating employers provide paid sick leave. 

Starting Saturday, all Walmart store and warehouse workers will be able to accrue as many as 48 hours of what the retailer calls "Protected Paid Time Off," which differs from regular vacation time and can be used for any reason. 

Employees will earn an hour for every 30 hours worked, a policy intended to curb absenteeism by giving workers a way to take time off. 

Walmart also will begin paying quarterly bonuses based on employee attendance, rather than its previous policy of linking bonuses solely to a store's performance, the company said.

More than 300,000 part- and full-time hourly workers already have attendance records that would qualify them for the new bonuses, according to Drew Holler, vice president of associate experience at Walmart. The number is less than one-third of the the company's 1.1 million hourly workers.

OUR Walmart, a labor activist group that petitioned for paid sick leave, offered mixed reviews of the company's new policy. 

"Walmart is responding to our call for change with a new policy. But what they are giving with one hand, they are taking with the other," Shashauna Phillips, an OUR Walmart leader and mother of six who works at Walmart in North Charleston, South Carolina. 

One problem, Phillips said, is that the bonus plan for good attendance could be an incentive for workers to come in sick, she added.

Walmart also cut its permitted number of attendance infractions from nine to five, which means employees can be fired for five attendance problems within a six-month period.

The company last year hiked wages and expanded parental-leave policies in an effort to retain workers.

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