People wearing masks and gloves wait to enter a Walmart on April 17, 2020 in Uniondale, New York.
Walmart and Sam’s Club will require their approximately 1.5 million U.S.-based associates to wear masks or other face coverings beginning on Monday, according to a memo sent by the CEOs of Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club, a Walmart division.
The retailers will also encourage customers to wear face coverings, according to the memo, which is dated Friday. Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States.
The memo was sent by John Furner of Walmart and Kath McLay of Sam’s Club to associates in the United States, and comes as an increasing number of states and cities, including New York, are mandating that residents wear masks in public settings.
On the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this month that it also recommends that Americans wear cloth face coverings in places where social distancing is difficult, including grocery stores.
“We have evolved our policy on face coverings from optional to mandatory as public health guidance has shifted,” Furner and McLay wrote.
They wrote that employees could bring their own face covering or use one provided by the company. The company will also extend its emergency leave policy through the end of May, the two executives wrote.
The new move comes as Walmart’s leadership wrestles with the company’s handling of a public health crisis that has caused demand to skyrocket while threatening the health of its employees and customers. The financial crisis caused by Covid-19 has also led to an onslaught of new job applicants.
The company hired 150,000 applicants from a pool of a million job seekers in the past month, according to a report published in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, as U.S. sales surged by 20% in March. Meanwhile, the company has put a tenth of its workforce on leave, the outlet reported.
The latest move by the company effectively extends existing requirements nationwide.
Last month, Furner and McLay told employees that the company was beginning to roll out temperature checks of employees, and said it would make available masks and gloves to employees who wanted them. On April 9, the company said it would make masks mandatory “in many communities where we are seeing elevated cases.”
In their Friday memo, the two executives cited guidance from the CDC indicating that infected individuals who do not show symptoms of the virus can still transmit it to others.
“With this knowledge, we believe it is simply in everyone’s best interest to use masks or face coverings to curb the spread of this disease,” they wrote.