As coronavirus outbreaks continue to devastate meatpacking plants across the nation, Tyson Foods is ending an absentee policy that it introduced during the pandemic. According to some sources, Tyon has had about 7,185 COVID-19 cases tied to it, including hundreds from outbreaks that have occurred in recent weeks. In Iowa, multiple plants have had significant outbreaks and some areas in Texas have had coronavirus cases centralized to areas around Tyson plants.
Despite this, the food-processing giant is reinstating an attendance policy that some safety advocated cite as being irresponsible. It made the announcement last Tuesday, the same day the company confirmed that two of its Iowa plants were had seen a total of 815 coronavirus cases.
What Is Tyson’s Absentee Policy?
In short, the company’s reinstated absentee policy punishes workers for failing to come to work. Last March, the company relaxed its attendance policies and eliminated the penalties workers could face if they were absent because of illness. Workers welcomed this revision because many feared they would catch the virus from others who weren’t showing signs of having it.
“We’re reinstating our standard attendance policy,” Tyson spokesperson Gary Mickelson told Bloomberg. “But our position on COVID-19 has not changed: Workers who have symptoms of the virus or have tested positive will continue to be asked to stay home and will not be penalized. They will also continue to qualify for short-term disability pay so they can continue to be paid while they’re sick.”
The attendance policy is a point system that penalizes workers for missing shifts. Tyson claims that the system is important to monitor “staffing levels in order to operate effectively.” The company asserts that it will still offer sick leave to employees that test positive for COVID-19. What the company doesn’t address is many workers, including at least half of the 815 positive workers in Iowa, can have the virus without even knowing it. In other words, the virus will continue to spread if workers are afraid to come in and be exposed to a sickness their coworkers likely don’t even know they have.
“It is irresponsible to move away from strong protections, paid sick leave, and attendance policies that support worker well-being and public health goals,” said Mary Beth Gallagher, executive director of Investor Advocates for Social Justice. “Instead, it appears the incentives and attendance policies further business objectives that may be out of step with keeping workers safe.”