Walmart Inc. has taken the wraps off an updated policy regarding its response to coronavirus, as outlined in a March 10 memo put out by John Furner, president and CEO – Walmart U.S.; Kath McLay, president and CEO – Sam’s Club; and Donna Morris, EVP and chief people officer – Walmart, to all U.S. associates. The change comes after an associate at a Walmart store in Cynthiana, Ky., tested positive for COVID-19 and began receiving medical care. Her condition is said to be improving.
“After learning of this case, we consulted with state and local health experts, reinforced our cleaning and sanitizing protocol, and, with the support and encouragement of the state government, the store remains open,” Furner, McLay and Morris wrote in the memo.
They added: “As more cases are likely to occur, we’ll continue to take precautions and actions to keep our stores, clubs and other facilities clean and ensure the well-being of our associates, customers and members, following the protocols from our own health experts and relevant federal and state agencies. We are in close communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as other health organizations, and have plans and procedures in place.”
The executives went on to reveal the creation of a COVID-19 emergency leave policy, effective immediately, to enable associates who don’t feel well to stay home. “To ensure you feel supported making this choice, we will waive our attendance occurrence policy through the end of April, but please call in as usual to let us know,” the memo noted. “In order to be paid for this time, you may use your regular paid time-off options.”
In the case of a mandated quarantine situation, associates “will receive up to two weeks of pay, and absences during the time you are out will not count against attendance,” according to the memo. “We’ve chosen two weeks because it matches the recommended time for quarantines related to this virus.”
Further, associates who’ve been confirmed to have the virus will receive up to two weeks of pay, and if they’re unable return to work after that time, additional pay replacement may be provided for up to 26 weeks for both full-time and part-time workers.
The executives also pointed out that in response to the current situation, the Walmart Associates in Critical Need Trust, an independent charitable trust (ACNT), has temporarily waived the eligibility requirement that U.S. associates be employed at Walmart for 365 days before they can apply for a grant.
Earlier, Walmart issued associate guidelines restricting international travel, limiting domestic travel to essential operations and advising organizers to be “selective” as to which group meetings take place during this time.
The mega-retailer is also taking preventive action to keep its stores clean and to maintain a healthy environment. “Stores are cleaned daily, which includes using sanitizing solutions in high-touch, high-traffic areas,” the company said in a post on its corporate website. “We have increased associate focus on cleaning and have dedicated an associate to maintain key areas throughout the day. We’ve seen increased foot traffic, so we’re sending additional cleaning supplies for use in places like the registers and on shopping carts.”
Walmart additionally noted that it was “pursuing easier ways to sanitize shopping carts,” and that it had “plans in place for third-party sanitization, should it be needed for a store impacted by the virus,” and it was “evaluating whether to modify store hours at some 24-hour facilities to allow for additional cleaning.”
The company also vowed to keep its “stores stocked and prices fair” in the face of product shortages of items like hand sanitizer and face masks, and allegations of price gouging across the country.
“We are working to replenish those items quickly, including diverting products to areas of the country where they are needed most and routing deliveries directly to stores,” Walmart said. “We have also authorized our store managers to manage their inventory, including the discretion to limit sales quantities on items that are in unusually high demand.”
The company went on to encourage shoppers to make use of its online delivery and store pickup options, or the Walmart Pay feature of its app when paying at checkout, as ways to limit contact with people.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart operates more than 11,300 stores under 58 banners in 27 countries, and ecommerce websites, employing 2.2 million-plus associates worldwide. The company is No. 1 on Progressive Grocer’s 2019 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.