One of the country’s most recognizable retail jobs might soon be no more, and the disabled community is reacting.
Walmart, the biggest employer in the United States, is phasing out its store greeter position. Instead, the company is adding “customer hosts.”
Transitioning to customer hosts was part of a pilot program that started in 2016. In the stores that were part of the pilot program, the greeters were given more active responsibilities like checking receipts, assisting customers and keeping entrances clean. The company’s stated goal was to be able to provide “an excellent first impression” and to “ensure simpler, more convenient shopping.”
The position of customer host also requires an employee to be able to lift 25 pounds, clean up spills, collect carts and stand for long periods of time in order to offer “more at the door.” According to the company, there are 143 Walmart stores in North Texas with a total of 63,000 employees in the region. The change in position would affect more than 1,000 stores nationwide.
But advocacy organizations say this change disproportionately affects those with disabilities.
Ted Evans, the staff attorney for Disability Rights Texas, said he has heard from at least four individuals about these changes. He’s working on a complaint filed by Elizabeth De La Cruz of Houston, who has cerebral palsy.
De La Cruz started working as a greeter at Sam’s Club in 2015 and had been in the position for two and a half years before transferring to a Walmart store. The store she was transferred to had started the transitional pilot program for customer hosts. A week after she started at her new store, De La Cruz was was told by her employer that she couldn’t use her chair. When the store failed to grant her a reasonable accommodation, she was put on leave of absence a month after her transfer.
De La Cruz has been on a leave of absence since 2017.
Evans filed a claim on De La Cruz’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which will investigate to see if there’s merit to her complaints. If the EEOC agrees that De La Cruz’s case does have merit, she can move to sue Walmart.
“It doesn’t make too much sense to us at the moment,” Evans said. “They haven’t explained (why lifting 25 pounds) is important to the job … and it doesn’t look like they’ve put much thought to reasonable accommodations.”
The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities is another advocacy organization that takes issue with the new position. Executive Director Dennis Borel said it’s discrimination.
“People with disabilities have an unemployment rate twice that of the general population, and most of that is because of stereotypes,” Borel said. The fact that Walmart is making one of the most highly visible positions in the store more difficult for people with disabilities calls into question the attitude of the employer.
In a statement, the company said it was offering a 60-day transition period for their greeters to determine if there are other jobs they would like to be considered for, and the company is extending that transition period for its employees with disabilities.
“We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation,” Walmart said in a statement. The extended 60-day transition would “allow these associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all those involved.”
Borel, however, isn’t buying it.
“(Walmart is) certainly making statements that would make them seem as less of a bad guy in the public eye,” he said. “But they’ve singled out workers with disabilities with these 60-day transition periods. It really is discrimination.”