Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States, and many of its employees are disabled either intellectually or physically. In late February, however, word went out to the stores’ employees that the traditional “greeter” position would be phased out in over 1,000 stores across the country, including several in South Carolina. The greeters are to be replaced by “customer hosts” with different job requirements. There have been several pundits that suggest this move may run afoul of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Policy Changes Date Back To 2016
Walmart has been working up to phasing out ‘greeters’ for years now, allegedly in an effort to keep the chain modern and efficient. The stated corporate alternative will be ‘customer hosts,’ who will perform the role of a greeter but also handle other responsibilities around their stores. The issue is that Walmart does employ many disabled workers, including a percentage who are paraplegic or quadriplegic, and the stated qualifications for the new ‘customer host’ jobs would disproportionately keep disabled employees from getting those new jobs. This means, at least in theory, that a lot of former ‘greeters’ would lose their jobs.
The listed requirements for the ‘customer host’ position include being able to lift at least 25 pounds, clean up spills, collect carts and generally manage the front of the store. Some were advised that they would have to be able to climb a ladder in order to qualify. For many disabled workers these criteria would be impossible to fulfill, and depending on the specific store, disabled workers would then be all but forced out of their positions when the switch becomes permanent in April 2019.
Does It Violate The ADA?
Pundits and legal experts have weighed in on whether Walmart’s policy change may run afoul of the ADA. The Americans With Disabilities Act does not require that disabled employees be kept in the exact same job at all times. Requirements and job descriptions can change as the employer sees fit. However, if a job’s requirements change, an employer has a responsibility to try and either find alternative employment for a disabled worker, or to work out a reasonable accommodation with the employee. As long as the worker can perform the essential functions of a job, the employer cannot just let them go.
Walmart has taken some steps to address disabled workers’ concerns, including granting an extra-long window of time in which they can be placed in another job (beyond the April 25 deadline for the switch to become permanent). However, disability organizations like the National Disability Rights Network say they will be watching to ensure that Walmart does its best to abide by its responsibilities under the ADA. There are already multiple lawsuits pending against the company, filed by greeters with disabilities who say they were either forced out or made to resign after the announcement. It is possible that other defendants will join those suits if treated in a discriminatory manner.
Contact An Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today
There are between 50 and 100 Walmart stores in South Carolina, some of which will be affected by the switch to ‘customer hosts.’ If you or a loved one feel you have been discriminated against due to your disability, consulting an employment discrimination attorney can help clarify what your options are going forward. Attorney A. Christopher Potts handles all types of employment discrimination suits, and will try and work out a strategy with you to handle yours. Contact Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule a consultation.