Walmart stores across the country have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing the retail giant’s supply chain and the company’s employees as consumer demand has soared to unprecedented levels over the past month.
CEO Doug McMillon this week penned a letter to employees thanking them for “handling unbelievable surges in demand which have been quickly followed by out of stocks.” He also noted the rate of COVID-19 infection in the retailer’s workforce.
“Despite being on the front lines, our overall number of cases is tracking with the national rate of cases per capita for the general population, with less than 1% of the workforce having confirmed cases,” McMillon noted.
He said Walmart continues to get advice from healthcare experts and to listen to employees in order to take the best actions. Such actions include reduced store hours, limited number of shoppers in stores, directing store traffic in one-way patterns and marking stores to show customers the appropriate distances to keep from others. Stores also limited the purchased quantity on goods selling out daily. Sneeze guards are in the process of being placed in pharmacies and checkouts around the country. Masks and other protective gear have been offered to employees who also must submit to having their temperature taken before clocking into work.
McMillon said if the number of COVID-19 cases rises the company may have to temporarily close locations. He said the extended time-off policy remains in place and Walmart has hired 100,000 people since mid-March to help support the business. Walmart continues to hire with plans to add another 50,000 during this crisis. He urged employees to practice social distancing on the sales floor and in breakrooms and continue frequent handwashing.
“We will get through this. We’ll each do our part … keep the communication lines open,” McMillon said.
The family of one Walmart employee near Chicago who died from COVID-19 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the retailer. The suit (2020-L-003938) filed April 6 in Cook County, Ill., alleges Walmart knew about the man’s symptoms and disregarded them.
Wando Evans worked for Walmart for 15 years and died shortly after being sent home on March 23. The lawsuit said Evans, 51, worked as an overnight stocker and maintenance person and told his managers he had symptoms of COVID-19 but was not taken seriously. The suit claims Walmart was negligent because the store was not properly cleaned, nor was it practicing social distancing nor provide protective equipment to employees and didn’t tell other store employees when co-workers became symptomatic. Evans was one of two employees from the Evergreen Park store to die from COVID-19 exposure.
The company is “heartbroken at the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store and we are mourning along with their families,” Walmart said in a statement. The company also said the store was completely sanitized and hired a third-party company to clean the store and received a health department inspection before it reopened.