NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart is requiring that all home office workers as well as management-level staff members who travel within the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4 as part of a series of sweeping measures it announced to help curb the spread of the virus and drive more of its workers to get the shot in the arm.
The vaccine mandate, announced Friday, excludes frontline workers, who the company says have a lower vaccination rate than management. But it’s hoping that management will serve as an inspiration for its workers.
“We’re asking our leaders, which already have a higher vaccination rate, to make their example clear,” said Walmart spokesman Scott Pope in an email sent to The Associated Press. “We’re hoping that will influence even more of our frontline associates to become vaccinated.”
Pope declined to break out the vaccination rate for frontline workers and the rest of its employees.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer is also reversing its mask policy for its employees — including vaccinated ones — who work in stores, clubs and facilities to wear masks in areas with high infection rates.
The nation’s largest retailer and private employer says it is also encouraging customers to wear masks in those stores in areas with high infection rates and will be adding back signs at the entrances. It will also bring back so-called health ambassadors who will be positioned at the entrances and hand out masks.
Walmart is also doubling the incentive for workers in stores, clubs, transportation, distribution center and fulfillment centers to get the vaccine for $150. Those who already received the $75 incentive will receive another $75 in their paycheck dated Aug 19.
The move come three days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges.
“We continue to watch with deep concern the developments of the pandemic and the spread of variants, especially the delta variant,” wrote Donna Morris, Walmart’s chief people officer, in the memo circulated to employees that was shared by Walmart. “We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change. We are urging you to get vaccinated and want to see many more of you vaccinated.”
In a separate memo sent to employees who work in the home office, Doug McMillion, president and CEO of Walmart, wrote, “The virus is not over, and the delta variant has led to an increase in infection rates across much of the U.S.”
Pope told The Associated Press that the retailer has seen a “positive response” to the first financial incentive and is anticipating the sweetened perk will drive a similar response from workers.
Pope stopped short of saying that office workers who declined to be vaccinated would be terminated but said that the company is working through the process. He noted that the exceptions would be those who can’t get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.
When asked why frontline workers won’t be required to get the vaccine, Pope said that its approach with its large number of workers in frontline facilities has been “to inform them, encourage them, make it easy and to reward then financially for choosing to receive the vaccine.”
Walmart Inc. said it is also implementing a new process for verification of vaccine status for U.S. workers. It says it will share those details in the future.
Walmart’s dramatically shifting policy reflects the growing worry about the rising infection rates.
A few days after CDC eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people back in May, Walmart, along with a slew of other retailers, said it wouldn’t require vaccinated shoppers to wear a mask in U.S. stores, unless state or local laws said otherwise. Walmart also said that vaccinated workers could go maskless.
At that time, Walmart said that customers wouldn’t be asked but rather held to an “honor system” regarding their vaccination status. Walmart workers who didn’t wear masks also had to confirm they were vaccinated by filling out a daily questionnaire, though it was not requiring proof.
Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio