Walmart is facing a tough choice: How to keep workers away from customers

‘Every Day Is Frightening’: Working For Walmart Amid Covid-19 And America Cowering From The Scary Truth Of The Virus

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As news of the novel coronavirus spreads around the United States, Walmart has been caught unprepared. The retailer has been scrambling to find ways to keep its 1.4 million workers in one place and ensure they’re able to continue working alongside customers. And that means keeping employees away from customers for a while.

So the coronavirus has forced the world’s largest retailer into making a few tough choices.

“I’d never seen anything like it before and I’ve been in this for 35 years,” said Mike Paskiewicz, Walmart’s chief financial officer. “We want to make sure we do things right.”

Walmart has been criticized by its customers and employees alike over its handling of the virus during the pandemic.

On Friday, the company said it would temporarily close its stores in more than 30 markets as of 10 a.m. ET, a move that would mean that tens of thousands of workers will not be able to get to work. And on Tuesday, it announced plans to move 50,000 of its associates to temporary workers’ homes where they would be able to work for a time without seeing a customer.

“I’ll be at home working on my laptop,” Walmart associate Michael Della Piana told NPR. Della Piana says he’s been afraid to go to work since last week, so now he won’t be able to.

Paskiewicz says part of the reason Walmart has been able to make these decisions without the support of his board of directors is that the executives don’t have enough information to make their own decision.

“They’re operating in a vacuum,” Paskiewicz says. “There are a lot of unknowns on top of what’s happening with the virus.”

For Walmart, it becomes a decision about whether the virus’s spread will have a big enough impact that its workers will need some type of quarantine. And that could mean a reallocation of its workforce from where they are now or closing stores.

For those workers who live at home, the news has become an anxious and terrifying prospect. Della Piana says he spent many nights awake at his home in Michigan

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