Walmart announced recently that it plans to eliminate the position of store greeter at all U.S. stores, effective in late April. The news came as a shock to many Walmart greeters, especially those with disabilities. In the past, Walmart had been praised for providing viable jobs for people with a variety of disabilities, offering them the chance to represent the company when customers enter the store.
The announcement that greeters are being phased out created a sharp backlash from both customers and the disability community. Now, the CEO of Walmart's U.S. stores says that greeters with disabilities will not only be given an opportunity to apply for other positions but that they will also be given extra time to do so. Several greeters have already been offered new positions at their stores.
Disability advocates saw the announcement as a change in direction, although Walmart says it was merely meant to reinforce existing policy and clear up any misinformation.
"By rethinking their action, Walmart is now opening the door to actually help individuals realize their full employment potential," said a spokesperson for the National Disability Rights Network.
The greeter position will be rolled into a new, expanded position called "customer host." Hosts will greet customers, but they will also help with returns, work to prevent shoplifting and keep the entrance to the store clean. The position requires heavy lifting, ladder climbing and other physical work that people with some disabilities would not be able to perform.
The head of U.S. stores acknowledged that greeters with disabilities "face a unique situation ... and each case requires a thoughtful solution." He added that "appropriate accommodations" will be made to help associates with disabilities perform well in their new roles.
How you treat your employees can be part of your brand
Walmart had long been commended for its inclusiveness in hiring many people with disabilities as greeters, and that made a strong impression on customers. The announcement that the greeter position was being eliminated prompted outrage not only among disability advocates but also among customers. Some started petitions and Facebook support groups. Others called and emailed headquarters to make their displeasure known.
The head of a retail consulting company told the Associated Press that Walmart should have seen the public's reaction coming. "This was a major-league botch," he said.
These days, many customers base purchasing decisions in part on how ethical and pro-social they believe companies to be. Your employment practices could be scrutinized, along with your environmental record and other policies. Depending on how your company ends up being perceived, your business policies could become a part of your brand.
Would that be for better or for worse?