LAS CRUCES — Saturday morning, the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) posted a notice of imminent and substantial endangerment to employees and the public at the Walmart Supercenter located at 3331 Rinconada Boulevard in Las Cruces.
The store, which employs over 400 people, was ordered to close immediately after four employees tested positive for COVID-19 over the last three weeks. The store has since been disinfected and reopened.
The NMED said at the time that Walmart stated they do not require employees who test positive to self-quarantine for 14 days, nor do they notify individuals who came into close personal contact with such employees to get tested.
The Daily Press contacted both the NMED and Walmart’s corporate offices to inquire whether those practices have been in place at all Walmart locations or if the Las Cruces location was breaking policy.
Walmart responded to that inquiry late Saturday evening, stating the NMED’s information regarding how Walmart responds to COVID-positive employees “is inaccurate.” It remains unclear, pending communication with the NMED, whether OSHA spoke with national or local Walmart representatives when obtaining policy information.
Walmart’s full statement issued to the Daily Press is included below:
Per our company policies that have been in place for several months, if an associate tests positive or is presumed positive for COVID-19, the associate is sent home. The associate may only return to work if all the following requirements are met: 10 days have passed since the first day of symptoms or a positive test; no fever (temperature less than 100°F) without the use of fever-reducing medications for at least 72 hours; symptoms are improving; and their healthcare provider considers them fit to return to work.
We follow New Mexico’s and the CDC’s requirements to notify associates who may have come into close personal contact with associates who test positive. Associates are informed of the availability of COVID‐19 testing and the Walmart Health plan covers testing for all associates who have Walmart insurance and obtain a note from a physician.
Additionally, in the state of New Mexico we send home any associates who may have had close contact with any confirmed positive case – within or outside of our stores. Anyone who is sent home for potential close contact is required to quarantine for 14 days.
These protocols are in addition to the extensive measures we’ve had in place since April to help protect associates and customers, including installing sneeze guards at registers, limiting the number of customers in a store at any one time, one-way aisle shopping, placing social distancing signage, and enacting an emergency leave policy for associates who are unable or uncomfortable coming to work.
The NMED, however, responded Sunday, stating that employers are required to demonstrate compliance with worker protection requirements; when employers are unable to provide “timely and/or accurate information — as occurred in this instance — NMED will act based on the absence of such information.”
“Subsequent to our posting of a notice of imminent danger, Walmart verbally provided NMED with its corporate health and safety policies related to COVID-19,” the NMED said. “Today [Sunday], Walmart provided NMED with the policies, which NMED is currently reviewing. NMED is also awaiting documentation related to the Las Cruces store’s conformance with these policies.
“NMED appreciates Walmart’s remedying of the hazards at the Las Cruces store by taking the appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers, including disinfecting the location and testing employees.”
The case remains under investigation by OSHA.
The state urges customers who visited the Las Cruces location since June 22 – and any New Mexican who believes they may have been exposed – to seek COVID-19 testing. Testing hours and information are available at https://cvprovider.nmhealth.org/directory.html.
Under the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. The role of the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau is to ensure these conditions for employees by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education and assistance. To file a workplace complaint, email complaints.OSHA@state.nm.us or call 505-476-8700.