Walmart will require certain employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, the company said Friday.
The retailer’s new rule will apply to employees based at the retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, according to a company-wide memo. “Market, regional, and divisional” management-level employees who travel and “work in multiple facilities” will also need to get vaccinated, the memo said.
The deadline for getting vaccinated is October 4, 2021. According to the memo, Walmart will also “implement a new process for verification of vaccine status” for its workers.
The vaccination requirement does not apply to employees who work in stores, clubs, or warehouses, the memo said.
Walmart also announced Friday that it would require store workers in areas with “high transmission” to mask up at work.
Walmart is the first major retailer to require certain corporate employees get vaccinated, and among the first to reinstate mask requirements for some store workers.
Other retailers will likely follow suit, as Walmart led the way for stores to close on Thanksgiving and raise the minimum age to purchase firearms.
“We continue to watch with deep concern the developments of the pandemic and the spread of variants, especially the Delta variant,” Walmart chief people officer Donna Morris said in an email to employees. “We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change. We are urging you to get vaccinated.”
Walmart’s new policies come as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the US. The current 7-day average of daily new cases increased by 64% compared to the previous 7-day average, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A leaked presentation from the CDC found the variant is more transmissible than the common cold and seasonal flu, but did not lead to severe illness or death in vaccinated individuals. The University of California Davis Health found 97% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated as of July 22.
Walmart is updating its mask policies for store workers, as the COVID-19 Delta variant sends cases of the virus spiking in certain areas of the United States.
The retailer will now require masks for workers “inside our facilities in areas of substantial or high transmission.” The decision will take effect immediately.
The new rules for the world’s largest retailer keep the company in compliance with new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and could spur other companies to adopt similar changes.
On July 27, the CDC updated their recommendations for fully-vaccinated individuals. Now, the organization recommends that vaccinated individuals “wear a mask in public indoor settings” if they live in an area with “substantial or high transmission” of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Fully-vaccinated individuals can still spread the Delta variant of the virus. A leaked CDC presentation recently described the Delta variant as being “as contagious as chicken pox.”
Though vaccinated individuals are contracting the Delta variant, symptoms are most often mild or non-existent. Non-vaccianted individuals, however, comprise the majority of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the University of California Davis Health.
In a memo sent out to “field associates,” Chief People Officer Donna Morris and EVP of Health and Wellnesss Dr. Cheryl Pegus wrote that the rules will not apply to all stores.
“Managers will refer to the CDC site for updates relevant to their county each Monday,” they wrote in the memo. “Customers are strongly encouraged to wear masks, but not required.”
Anyone working a public-facing job might expect to encounter some shocking moments, especially in the retail industry. That’s especially true for Walmart’s legion of nearly 1.6 million US store employees, who work at the largest retail chain in the world.
Insider spoke to six workers – four currently employed by Walmart and two who recently worked there – about the most shocking aspects of their jobs. We confirmed the employment status of every employee cited in this story. Several workers interviewed asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
One Walmart worker from Indiana who works as an online-order picker and dispenser said she was surprised at how stressful the job can be.
Walmart refers to “pickers” as the people who select items from online orders and place them into a cart or bin, and “dispensers” put the grocery orders into cars. Some workers, like the one from Indiana, are cross-trained to do both.
She said her store has been understaffed during the pandemic, which means she often ends up working overtime to ensure all her orders get filled and delivered to customers.
But even when there are enough people at the store, she said that having people trained on just picking or dispensing creates headaches when there are too many people loading up cars and not enough people bringing out orders.
Gypsy Noonan, a former Walmart cashier and a member of the labor activist group United for Respect, told Insider that she ended up experiencing a stress-related seizure at work in January 2020. Noonan said that aspects of the job that particularly stressed her out included dealing with shoplifters and working the registers without backup.
She said the stress didn’t abate until she left the company.
“Whenever I would get work, before I would clock in, I would pull up my car and I would just sit in my car and try to mentally talk myself into going in there,” she said.
A Walmart spokesperson said the company provides “support for self-care and mental health resources ranging from grief counseling to parenting to managing stress and anxiety,” including wellbeing services through a partnership with Thrive Global. The spokesperson said that Walmart also offers its US workforce “no-cost behavioral health services.”
“All associates and their family members, regardless of whether they’re on a Walmart medical plan, can receive support for emotional wellness through Resources for Living,” the spokesperson said. “This includes ten counseling sessions per type of concern at no cost and unlimited support by phone.”
Some customers like to snack in the store
Two Walmart workers from Florida and Virginia said they were surprised to have to confront shoppers who treat the produce section like their own personal buffet. The employees said they’d watched customers snack on grapes, apples, and other produce items before paying.
“We can’t weigh the item if it’s already consumed,” the worker from Florida said.
Another worker from Wisconsin said that they’d caught shoppers consuming hot deli items without paying for them, and that they’d even found half-eaten sandwiches in “random” spots within the store, leaving employees to clean up the mess.
“We trust our customers to do what’s right and only ask they pay for the item before leaving the store,” a Walmart spokesperson told Insider.
The returns desk can be a wild place to work
Under Walmart’s company policy, customers can return or exchange items up to 90 days after the date of purchase, aside from certain exceptions. Sometimes, consumers attempt to take advantage of that policy, and the Walmart workers with the most outlandish stories are often the ones who’ve spent time near the returns desk.
Boxes filled with bricks, nibbled-on food from competing retail chains, and well-worn undergarments are just a few of the items that workers said they have seen customers bring forward.
The higher up you go, the more your work-life balance suffers
A former Walmart manager said the retail giant is a “great place to start” when you’re early in your career, and even added that his teen daughter worked there.
But the more promotions you get and if you get to the manager position, your work life balance suffers, he said.
The former manager said he quit in part from the stress of understaffing due to Walmart headquarters’ decision to cut wages and increase metrics for individual stores. He said he had to take on extra responsibilities to ensure the store could operate.
“It’s a decision of whether you’re going to have a work life or a family life,” the former employee said. “You’re not going to be able to have both the way the environment currently is.”
Most shoppers and coworkers are great
Retail jobs often get a reputation for being grueling. In fact, many retail workers spoke to Insider recently about “rage-quitting” their gigs after butting heads with bosses or shoppers.
But four Walmart employees told Insider that customers and teammates were the best part of their jobs, despite the occasional negative interactions.
“Most customers are good people,” one worker from Virginia said. “If you give them a bit of help, most are very nice.”
A Walmart spokesperson told Insider that the company adheres to “core values of respect, service, excellence, and integrity” since the days of founder Sam Walton.
“It is our culture that creates the family environment our associates are proud to talk about and it is why many associates stay with Walmart for 20, 30, 40 or more years,” the spokesperson said.