Walmart just put the pressure on the biggest US companies to reimpose mask mandates for employees

Walmart just put the pressure on the biggest US companies to reimpose mask mandates for employees
Other retailers may follow Walmart's decision to change rules around employee mask requirements as COVID-19 cases rise. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
  • Walmart has reinstated its mask requirement for all employees in "high transmission" areas.
  • Walmart's decision could spark similar changes throughout the retail industry.
  • Retailers followed Walmart in raising the minimum age to buy firearms, and closing stores on Thanksgiving.

Walmart has changed its rules around employee mask and vaccine requirements in order to better comply with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, employees in areas experiencing "high transmission" will be required to wear masks at work. Customers in those areas will also be "encouraged" to mask up, although they won't be required to don facial coverings.

Walmart has also become one of the first retailers to require some corporate employees get vaccinated. The company announced certain employees at the Bentonville, Arkansas must get a COVID-19 vaccine by October 4.

On July 27, the CDC updated their recommendations for fully-vaccinated individuals. Now, the organization recommends that vaccinated individuals "wear a mask in public indoor settings" if they live in an area with "substantial or high transmission" of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

As the world's largest retailer, Walmart's decision is sure to ripple throughout the industry. And it wouldn't be the first time that the company has spurred action across the business world on an issue largely unrelated to retail.


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Most notably, retailers followed Walmart's lead after the Arkansas-based company raised the minimum age to buy firearms to 21. That decision came after Dick's Sporting Goods announced that it would stop selling assault-rifle-style guns altogether in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

More recently, other retailers allowed followed Walmart this year when the company announced that it would once again keep stores closed on Thanksgiving.

Walmart's rule change could also potentially take some pressure off smaller retailers - like restaurants. Local businesses in Ohio recently spoke to the Columbus Dispatch about how fraught the decision to require masks can be when many customers reject wearing face masks. Retail workers have had to play "mask police" throughout the pandemic, which has led to violent exchanges - some fatal - between employees and shoppers.

Walmart just put the pressure on the biggest US companies to reimpose mask mandates for employees
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon Reuters/Ray Stubblebine

One glaring exception to Walmart's leadership pertains to minimum wage. Unlike Amazon, Target, and Costco, Walmart is one of the last major retailers that has not raised its minimum hourly wage to $15 an hour.


Amazon even took a jab at the biggest retailer in a December Bloomberg report. "What surprises us is that we are the focus of a story like this when some of the country's largest employers, including the largest retailer, have yet to join us in raising the minimum wage to $15," an Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg after the publication reported average industry compensation dropped by 6% within two years of 68 counties where Amazon opened warehouses.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company's minimum wage encourages employees to move up in the company. Walmart maintains most workers make an average salary above $15 an hour.

"We're obviously really well aware of what's happening nationally with this discussion around $15 and think that that's an important target," McMillon said on a February call with investors, "but also think that that should be paced in a way that's good for the US economy."