NEW YORK —
Walmart is enacting an emergency leave policy for its 1.4 million hourly U.S. workers that allowing them to take time off without penalty if they fear the spread of a new virus.

The nation’s largest private employer said Tuesday that a worker at its store in Cynthiana, Kentucky, tested positive for the COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The worker is receiving medical care and her condition is improving, according to an internal memo. The retailer consulted with state and local health experts after learning of the case, reinforced its cleaning and sanitizing protocol, and the store remains open after Walmart conferred with the state government.

As part of the new emergency leave policy, Walmart said that hourly workers who work in a store, club, office or distribution center will receive up to two weeks pay if they’re required to quarantine by the government or by the retailer. Workers who have a confirmed case of the virus will also receive two weeks of pay. If they are not able to return to work after that time, additional pay may be provided for up to 26 weeks for both full- and part-time hourly workers.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

Walmart’s senior vice president of U.S. benefits Adam Stavisky told The Associated Press that a revised policy was required during these “unprecedented and uncharted times.”

“We are looking to provide some additional support so they can better weather these times,”‘ Stavisky said.

Previously, Walmart Inc. allowed full-time hourly associate to carry over up to 80 hours of paid time off each year, and a part-time hourly associate could carry over up to 48 hours of paid time off.

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