Kmart will open its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day this year and remain open for 42 hours, meaning that many employees will have to come to work to staff shifts. While the company says it tries to fill the slots with volunteers or seasonal hires, workers are reporting that the reality on the ground is very different.
Jillian Fisher, who started a petition on Coworker.org asking Kmart to give her mother and other employees the flexibility to take the holiday off, surveyed 56 self-identified employees from more than 13 states. Of those, just three said they had the option to ask to take the holiday off. In a press release from the petition organizer, one employee said human resources has told them, “if you do not come to work on Thanksgiving, you will automatically be fired… I made the request to work a split shift on Thanksgiving and was denied.” Another said, “Our manager stated at a staff meeting: ‘Everyone must work Thanksgiving and Black Friday. No time off.’” At one location, an employee says signs have been posted in the break room saying workers can’t request time off on Thanksgiving or Black Friday and that everyone has to put in at least some time on both, while at another signs have been posted saying no one can request time off between November 15 and January 1.
“I am a lead at a Kmart and it is mandatory for me to work on Thanksgiving,” another employee said. “If I were to call out I would be terminated, and requesting off is not allowed.”
Only seven surveyed employees said their stores had given employees the chance to volunteer for a holiday shift. “[A]t my store, they scheduled workers who aren’t seasonal and who DIDN’T volunteer to work on Thanksgiving,” one said. Another said, “I didn’t volunteer to work on either of these days they just pretty much scheduled me regardless if I had plans or not on Thanksgiving.”
And most workers have no idea whether they’re going to be asked to give up some of their Thanksgiving dinner to come to work, even with the holiday a week away. Forty-three percent of the surveyed employees said they still don’t know their schedules for Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Fisher says that her mother has sometimes found out her schedule as little as a day ahead of time.
They may be in for a rude surprise: of those who know their schedules, all but two have to work on Thanksgiving, while about three-quarters also have to come in the next day.
In response to questions about the survey results, a company spokesperson said in a statement, “Again, we reiterate that our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays. Seasonal associates are told upon hire of our holiday store hours and we make every effort to accommodate associate shift requests during this time. Associate schedules are posted, on average, two weeks in advance — including for holiday schedules. All associates are compensated time and a half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day. We continue to express deep appreciation in advance to all associates who will be working Thanksgiving and Black Friday.”
Kmart employees aren’t alone in being asked to come to work on the holiday. Twelve retail chains will be open, requiring millions of people to leave home. Erratic and last-minute schedules are rampant in the industry, so others may also be in limbo waiting to find out whether they will miss out on time with friends and family. And no American is guaranteed a paid holiday off, so many others may find they aren’t able to request the time off.
Some stores, on the other hand, are deciding to just stay closed and let employees be at home to celebrate: 17 have announced they will not open on Thanksgiving. Many say it’s to allow their workers to take a break and be with loved ones.
Fisher will keep the momentum going in the pushback against Kmart. “I plan to continue to fight not just for my mother, but for every family that has had to choose between spending time together and working longer hours,” she said. “We are simply asking Kmart to display more effort when it comes to allowing employees to request off or volunteer to work on Thanksgiving.”
This story has been updated with a new statement from Kmart.
Kmart workers shared the following photos of signs posted in their workplaces saying that employees can’t take days off during the holidays: