Walmart, Sam’s Club change employee COVID-19 policy, increase hiring

Beginning Monday, Walmart and Sam’s Club will require all of their approximately 1.5 million U.S.-based associates to wear masks or other face coverings. This is a change from previous store policy which has now evolved to reflect CDC guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

John Furner of Walmart and Kath McLay of Sam’s Club sent out a memo to associates explaining the policy adjustment. Wearing a mask or face covering is now mandatory for all employes, no longer something done on a voluntary basis. Employees can wear their own masks or use a company-provided one. On April 9, masks were made mandatory in some communities with higher levels of cases.

Last month, Furner and McLay told employees that the company was beginning to roll out temperature checks of employees, and said it would make available masks and gloves to employees who wanted them. On April 9, the company said it would make masks mandatory “in many communities where we are seeing elevated cases.”

In their Friday memo, the two executives cited guidance from the CDC indicating that infected individuals who do not show symptoms of the virus can still transmit it to others.

“With this knowledge, we believe it is simply in everyone’s best interest to use masks or face coverings to curb the spread of this disease,” they wrote.

Despite the fact that most state and local governments are not making such mandates in public settings, the largest employer in the United States thinks the CDC knows best. And, acknowledgment is made that local laws or individual health needs may require exceptions to be made. In other words, instead of taking the more efficient route of adjusting policy to separate communities, the big retailers are trying to fit a one-size-fits-all approach to mitigation. They are doubling down at a time when many cities and states are already seeing decreases in cases. That just struck me as interesting timing. From the company memo:

We have evolved our policy on face coverings from optional to mandatory as public health guidance has shifted. The CDC now recommends wearing face coverings in public settings, including grocery stores, to help curb the spread of the virus. Although most state and local governments do not mandate the use of face coverings in public settings, the CDC has reported that recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with the virus lack symptoms and can transmit the virus. With this knowledge, we believe it is simply in everyone’s best interest to use masks or face coverings to curb the spread of this disease.

We hope this step will promote safety and consistency across all of our facilities and be of comfort to our customers and members. However, it’s important to remember that face coverings are simply an additional health precaution. They do not guarantee against the spread of this virus, and they do not replace the most important steps you can take to keep yourself and others safe: 6-20-100. Whether at work or elsewhere, practice six feet of social distancing whenever possible. Regularly wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds. And if you have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, stay home.

Dan Bartlett, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, said the company will need more than seven million masks each week for its employees. The delay in making masks mandatory for all its employees was out of consideration for the amount of personal protective equipment needed by medical professionals. Walmart is extending its emergency leave policy through May. It should also be noted that Walmart hopes its customers also wear masks.

A new hiring announcement was made by Walmart, too. The company is looking to hire 50,000 new employees. The positions include cashiers, stockers and personal shoppers for its stores and clubs, fillers and pickers at distribution centers and fulfillment centers and drivers for its fleet. Its previous announcement of hiring an additional 150,000 people drew 1 million employment applications in response.

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