Walmart’s decision to change the qualifications for its front-door greeter jobs is coming at a controversial cost, with greeters at nearly 1,000 stores anticipated to lose their jobs by the end of April 2019. Critics of the change contend that it appears to disproportionately affect workers with disabilities.
Greeters with disabilities in five U.S. states told NPR they expect to lose their jobs after April 25 or 26, but the total number of greeters that will be let go is unknown.
In response to NPR’s inquiry, Walmart acknowledged the effect on workers with disabilities. Spokesperson Kory Lundberg said that the company will now give greeters with disabilities more time beyond April 25 to find new accommodations: “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.”
When Walmart brought back its front-door greeters in 2016, the retailer announced that it was piloting a program to slowly transition the job into that of a “customer host,” described as “an associate who greets customers, but also checks receipts where appropriate, assists with returns and helps keep entrances clean and safe.” Customer hosts have been employed in approximately 1,000 U.S. stores, and the number continues to rise.
The expanded qualifications of the customer host position requires standing for extended periods, the ability to lift and move 25-pound parcels, checking receipts, writing reports and helping with product loss investigations.
The greeter job had traditionally been that of a store ambassador with a friendly face and demeanor to meet shoppers upon entry. While Walmart has long dealt with legal and public relations battles related to employee mistreatment, low wages and poor working conditions, the greeter positionhad been an attractive fit compared to other store associate jobs, as it isn’t physically strenuous and is easy to learn.
During the pilot phase, more than 80% of the affected associates were able to find new positions, according to the May 2016 Walmart blog post on the change. But with numerous reports over the past year that disabled greeters have been fired from their positions, including a recent report of a Pennsylvania store greeter with cerebral palsy who is being let go after 10 years on the job, Walmart has generated plenty of negative attention on a national scale.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not preclude companies from changing their job descriptions and expected job functions as they see fit for their business goals. The ADA’s requirement is for companies to provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities facing changing job demands, as long as the worker can perform the “essential functions” of the job.