Walmart on Friday (July 30) joined a growing number of companies requiring all or certain employees to be vaccinated. The Bentonville-based retailer said all market, regional and divisional employees working in multiple facilities and all campus offices must be vaccinated by Oct. 4, unless they have an approved exception.
Decisions by companies and governments to mandate vaccines and mask use come as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has significantly increased new cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide – especially among a younger demographic.
Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president of health and wellness at Walmart, made the announcement in a corporate memo on Friday, which was shared with Talk Business & Politics. The requirement applies to all new hires. Pegus said because some of the vaccines require multiple doses with a period of time in between, and it takes two weeks after the final dose to be considered fully vaccinated, Walmart recommends employees start getting the first dose now.
“We realize a small percentage cannot get vaccinated due to medical issues or religious reasons and we have policies in place to address those situations,” she noted.
Walmart reopened its corporate office in Bentonville last month for more employees to return. She said safety measures remain in place and the retailer will continue with its phased-in approach and only allow limited capacity.
She said the plan has been to gradually return to pre-pandemic levels after Labor Day but will monitor the situation and adjust the timeline as needed. The company has allowed business-critical travel to stores, distribution and fulfillment centers and clubs, but she asked employees to continue virtual participation in supplier meetings and conferences.
“As we embrace future ways of working, we will focus on providing a healthy amount of flexibility to aid productivity as well as to retain and attract great associates like you. We will identify new ways of working together on the other side of this virus, but we have to fight the virus, all of us, to get there, “ Pegus noted in the memo.
Also on Friday, Pegus and Donna Morris, the chief people officer at Walmart, issued an internal memo addressing modifications to mask policies for store and distribution center employees and boosting incentives to get more people vaccinated. Morris said the move comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have updated guidance for wearing masks as levels of transmission of the Delta variant of the coronavirus are rising.
“We remain focused on guidance issued by health experts, including the CDC, as well as state and local health departments. We will continue to follow the latest CDC guidance, which includes fully vaccinated people wearing masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission, effective immediately,” she said.
Stores in areas with high transmission rates as identified by the CDC will be affected. She said store managers will be notified Monday and signs will go up. She said all Arkansas employees are included because the state is deemed an area of high transmission.
Walmart is raising the vaccine incentive to $150 for those working in stores and the supply chain, which is double the $75 incentive previously offered. Walmart said employees who did get the vaccine and the $75 will receive the additional stipend in their Aug. 19 paychecks. The incentive will remain until Oct. 4. Morris said employees can be vaccinated while on the clock and receive two hours of paid time off. The company also is providing up to three days of paid leave for any adverse reactions to the vaccine.
“As a country, vaccination options have been available for months, but, unfortunately, because so many people have chosen not to receive it, we’ve left ourselves more vulnerable to variants. The Delta variant is a mutation of the original COVID-19 virus and is much more aggressive and transmissible. It is important that necessary steps are taken to keep ourselves and our communities safe,” Morris said.
Walmart said it will also begin to implement a new process for verification of vaccine status for U.S. employees, subject to legal requirements. The retail giant said this will help it follow CDC guidelines on wearing masks in high transmission areas. Morris said Walmart will share more details about this process. She said Walmart will continue to conduct daily health screenings for all employees who work in a Walmart or Sam’s Club facility, distribution or fulfillment center or the corporate campuses.