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Walmart Hurts Disabled Employees By Cutting and Changing Thousands of Greeter Positions

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On April 25, Walmart will instate a new policy transitioning greeters into customer hosts. With requirements like lifting up to 25 pounds or standing for long hours, the new role makes the front-door position inaccessible to many with disabilities. As a result, many Walmart employees with disabilities are being told they no longer qualify for their jobs and must either find a new position in the company or their job goes away.

According to a 2016 blog post, Walmart began a pilot program experimenting with a “customer host” position with expanded responsibilities at the front door instead of greeters. The goal was to provide extra customer services in addition to a friendly welcome such as assisting with returns, keeping the front entrance clean and deterring shoplifters.

In the blog post, Walmart said it would begin to roll out the program nationwide based on the individual needs of each store after the successful 2016 pilot. It said current greeters were given the opportunity to apply for the new customer host role and 80 percent of greeters were placed in another suitable job at Walmart. Those who opted not to stay with the company were offered severance pay.

While the change could impact anyone employed as a Walmart greeter, it disproportionately affects workers with disabilities. According to NPR, customer hosts will now be required to lift at least 25 pounds, clean up spills, wrangle carts and stand for up to eight hours at a time. For many with disabilities, one or all of these new tasks make the role completely inaccessible. NPR also reported that some employees with a disability were told they would need to be able to climb a ladder if they wanted to transition into a different store role.

Since 2016 about Walmart 1,000 stores have eliminated the greeter position and, according to NPR, another 1,000 are set to lose their position by April 25. Additional reporting outlined how this affects Walmart greeters with disabilities across the country, including in Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, Alabama, Maryland and North Carolina.

Illinois-based greeter Nathan Joerdnt, for example, told a local news station he was informed he did not qualify for the new customer host job and is now facing unemployment. Joerdnt has Williams syndrome, a genetic developmental condition that impacts Joerdnt’s motor skills. He has served as a Walmart greeter for 18 years.

“It just hurts, and I have never ever been hurt like this before,” Joerdnt said of the change.

Walmart, which employs more than 1.5 million workers in its 5,000-plus stores across the United States, has a mixed history with workers with disabilities. The company has consistently scored high on the Disability Equality Index, a measure of workplace inclusion. However, NPR points out Walmart also has a long history of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits and complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for some of its disability-related policies.

Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told NPR the company would extend the greeter transition period beyond April 25 for Walmart employees with disabilities. Lundberg said:

We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation. With that in mind, we will be extending the current 60-day greeter transition period for associates with disabilities while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store. This allows associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all of those involved.

Based on the laws outlined in the ADA, Walmart’s job description change is allowed if it’s based on adjusting to the company’s business needs. But the law requires companies must still work with employees with disabilities to determine if the new role can be adapted based on reasonable accommodations. This could include making adjustments to new job requirements, transitioning to a similar role in another department or other arrangements at the discretion of each store.

If store managers don’t work with individuals with disabilities to accommodate the new job appropriately, they may be in violation of the guidelines outlined in the ADA. According to NPR, this has so far resulted in two EEOC claims and a lawsuit from former Walmart greeters based on how the transition from greeter to customer host was handled at their store.

In the meantime, communities rallied around those impacted by Walmart’s change. They’ve launched Facebook groups and petitions — there are currently eight active petitions on — in support of favorite Walmart greeters across the country who have been a welcome face for shoppers, often for years.

Walmart’s decision to change one of its most accessible roles underscores the difficulty of working when you have a disability. The latest report shows that only 37 percent of those with disabilities in the U.S. have steady work. The elimination of the Walmart greeter role just narrowed those job options, a disappointment for many Walmart associates who now face unemployment.

“It’s been very stressful,” Alabama-based greeter Mitchell told NPR after learning his position will be eliminated. “It gives me a place to go every day where I’m not sitting at home. I’m not one of these people in the wheelchair that want to draw Social Security. I’m able to work; I want to work; I want to be out in society.”

Originally published: February 26, 2019
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