Walmart today began requiring all U.S. employees to cover their faces while at work to help prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant announced the move Friday evening in a memo from Walmart U.S. President and CEO John Furner and Sam’s Club President and CEO Kathryn McLay. Under the policy, all staff at stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers, and corporate offices must wear a face mask or face covering. The company said it also will urge customers to cover their face when shopping.
Walmart noted that the requirement reflects recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health authorities, and the company’s chief medical officer. The company had announced April 9 that it was making face masks available to all employees and was mandating they be worn in some hard-hit communities, such as New Orleans.
“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,” Furner and McLay said in the memo. “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.”
Employees can use their own face covering, if it meets certain guidelines, or they will be provided with one upon passing a health screening and temperature check as they report to work, Walmart said. The company announced at the end of March that Walmart and Sam’s Club will check associates’ temperatures as they enter the workplace.
“We’re also aware there may need to be exceptions to this policy based on local laws and individual health needs,” Furner and McLay said. “We hope this step will promote safety and consistency across all of our facilities and be of comfort to our customers and members.”
Though face coverings provide another health precaution, Walmart is urging employees to take more safety measures at work and home by following the “6-20-100” rule: practice six feet of social distancing whenever possible, regularly wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds and stay home if you have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher.
Walmart, too, is extending its emergency leave policy for COVID-19 through the end of May. Under the emergency leave program, announced March 10, workers get up to two weeks pay if they must be quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus. If store, warehouse club or distribution center employees cannot return to work after two weeks, up to 26 weeks of additional pay could be provided for both full- and part-time workers. The policy covers Walmart and Sam’s Club workers no matter when they were hired. The company said at the time that it also will allow employees to stay home if they are unable to work or feel “uncomfortable” at work by waiving its attendance policy through the end of April.
Also on Friday, Walmart said it plans to hire 50,000 more workers, expanding on an earlier commitment to hire more than 150,000 associates by the end of May.
“Hiring will be across our stores, clubs, fulfillment and distribution centers, but this won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Walmart said in a statement. “Hiring 50,000 new associates will give us the opportunity to provide additional staffing in key areas where it’s needed most. These hires will primarily be temporary associates and will support our current associates and customers in locations with specific needs. We are humbled and proud to be able to give an opportunity to so many workers during this critical time.”
In March, Walmart unveiled plans to add 150,000-plus workers to meet escalating demand triggered by the coronavirus outbreak. The company said it had over 1 million applicants and was hiring an average of 5,000 people daily, reaching its goal in less than a month — more than six weeks ahead of schedule.
“Today, we’re announcing a new commitment to hire an additional 50,000 associates,” Walmart stated. “We continue to see strong demand in our stores and, at the same time, we want to give our current associates the flexibility to take time off and stay home if they feel more comfortable doing so. In stores and clubs, we’ll continue to hire key roles, such as cashiers, stockers and personal shoppers. In distribution centers and fulfillment centers, we’ll hire additional fillers and pickers. And, we’ll also continue adding roles such as more drivers to our fleet.”
To help fill the new jobs, Walmart said it has worked with more than 70 companies that have furloughed workers, including from the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors. About 85% are being hired for temporary or part-time roles.
“While many of these associates want temporary employment that serves as a bridge during this time, we also expect others to convert to permanent roles,” Walmart added.
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