In March of this year, Wal-Mart made headlines when it announced more reductions in its “Greeter” position as part of an ongoing phase-out of Greeters in favor of “Customer Hosts,” whose positions are more physically demanding. Walmart told Greeters across the country that their positions would be eliminated. They were invited to reapply as Customer Hosts, a role that requires employees to be able to lift 25-pound packages, climb ladders and stand for long periods of time.
The move not only incited thousands of customers to deluge Wal-Mart with complaints and petitions; it also drew criticism from disability advocates, who asserted the shift violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Wal-Mart was already embroiled in at least one lawsuit over the position shift, and it soon back-peddled on its decision. However, some disability experts are predicting it may lead to changes (or at least refinements) in the language of the ADA.
At Marathon, we see the Wal-Mart debacle as a warning to employers everywhere that moves designed to save money or increase efficiency may be innocent in their intent, but that doesn’t mean they are not actionable. Business owners should always consult with legal counsel before making updates to job descriptions that increase physical demands or other work requirements addressed by federal laws. Here’s a good article that outlines some of the issues surrounding Wal-Mart’s situation. Marathon will monitor the issue and report back if any specific outcome changes the interpretation of the ADA or any other workplace law.