Whole Foods workers say a new company policy is a 'slap in the face' and a 'disgusting abuse' of people who worked during the height of the pandemic

  • Some Whole Foods workers are slamming the company after a recent change to the company's attendance policy. 
  • The grocer uses a point system to track attendance. If an employee is late or misses a shift, they get up to one point. Multiple points result in disciplinary action. After six months, the points normally roll-off, giving the workers a fresh start.
  • Recently, though, the company extended the expiration date for points that were earned before the pandemic, according to interviews with four Whole Foods employees and internal documents.
  • As a result, points that Whole Foods workers accrued prior to March 3 have remained on their records longer than expected, forcing some employees to face unexpected punishment for late arrivals or absences, employees said.
  • "All of a sudden we are being ordered by our global HR to hand out corrective action that has elongated roll-off dates for infractions in the middle of a pandemic that is still raging," said one Whole Foods manager.
  • Whole Foods declined to comment on the reason behind the point extension.
  • "During the early days of COVID-19, we temporarily paused our Time & Attendance policy as a whole, including corrective action, in order to allow Team Members to have unlimited call outs from work, during the height of the pandemic," a company spokesperson said. "The pause was extended on two occasions and was reinstated on June 22nd, which was communicated in advance to all Team Members."
  • If you work for Whole Foods and have a story to share, contact this reporter at [email protected]
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Some Whole Foods employees are furious over a change to the company's attendance policy that they say is making it harder for them to call off work despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.

The grocery store chain uses a point system to track attendance. If an employee is late or misses a shift, they get up to one point. Accumulated points result in disciplinary action. Normally, the points roll off after six months so that they have a clean slate.

However, the company recently added an additional 111 days to the expiration date for certain points, according to four employees of Whole Foods stores in four states, and internal company documents and emails. The extension applies to points earned prior to March 3.

As a result, attendance points that Whole Foods workers racked up prior to the pandemic have remained on their records longer than expected, forcing some employees to face unexpected punishment for late arrivals or absences, employees said.

"It's a slap in the face to everyone who showed up during the height of the pandemic," said an employee of a Philadelphia Whole Foods store, who spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "To say those hours we came in didn't count — it's completely cruel."

Amber Schottky, an employee of a Chicago-area Whole Foods, said going to work at the start of the pandemic was terrifying, and that she and her coworkers felt like their lives were at stake every day.

She said she felt reassured, however, when Whole Foods on March 3 relaxed its attendance policy and stopped tracking absences with points.

"If we felt overwhelmed or had symptoms or were around someone with symptoms, we felt like we could keep ourselves and our coworkers safe by staying home and not having to worry about our jobs," she told Business Insider.

Whole Foods started tracking attendance points again on June 22. Employees said they discovered over the next several weeks that the company had also added 111 days — which is the period of time that the attendance policy was relaxed — to the life of points accrued prior to March 3.

Schottky discovered the point extension when she arrived 15 minutes late to work on June 27, and later had to sign a "counseling statement" due to a point that remained on her record from mid-December.

"I looked at the [attendance] sheet and saw points that were supposed to drop off and hadn't," she said. "I had worked really hard the last couple months. …It felt like whiplash."

Whole Foods employees can face termination for too many attendance points 

Whole Foods' attendance policy states that accruing 3 points in a 6-month period results in a "counseling statement;" 5 points results in a "final warning;" and 6 points results in a firing, according to a copy of the policy viewed by Business Insider. Prior to the pandemic, points would expire after six months.

Under the recent policy change, any points that would have expired between March 3 and June 21 are given the life extension of an additional 111 days.

Whole Foods declined to comment on the reason behind the point extension. In a statement to Business Insider concerning this story, the company instead addressed the temporary pause of its attendance policy.

"During the early days of COVID-19, we temporarily paused our Time & Attendance policy as a whole, including corrective action, in order to allow Team Members to have unlimited call outs from work, during the height of the pandemic," the spokesperson said. "The pause was extended on two occasions and was reinstated on June 22nd, which was communicated in advance to all Team Members."

The spokesperson added that Whole Foods has repeatedly told employees to stay home if they are feeling unwell, and that workers may call out without corrective action if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or foodborne illnesses. 

Whole Foods workers are also eligible for up to two weeks of paid time off if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine by Whole Foods, the government, or a medical professional, the spokesperson said. High-risk employees are also eligible for an unpaid personal leave of absence.

'This is a disgusting abuse'

A Whole Foods manager who has been with the company for nearly a decade said he was infuriated by the point extension, however, and did not feel comfortable enforcing it.

"All of a sudden we are being ordered by our global HR to hand out corrective action that has elongated roll-off dates for infractions in the middle of a pandemic that is still raging," said the manager, who spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "I personally was forced to hand out corrective action documents to several of my team members knowing full well that the struggles they were dealing with during the 'pause' were by no means over and were starting in a very disadvantaged spot."

The manager and three other Whole Foods employees said the company did not widely announce the point extension. Instead, Whole Foods left it up to store managers to discuss the extension with employees, they said. 

"To me this is a disgusting abuse of the Team Members who have had to struggle through a pandemic," the manager said. "I value honesty and ethics, this under-the-table change has no honesty or ethics and feels dirty to be a part of."

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