The tradition of being welcomed to Walmart by blue-vested “people greeters” will soon change at stores across the nation.
Walmart officials confirmed Wednesday that greeters, many of whom are disabled, will be replaced by “customer hosts.” The hosts, part of a program the world’s largest retailer started in 2015, will still greet customers but have added and more physically demanding responsibilities.
“As we strive to constantly improve the experience for our customers, we will need to adjust roles from time to time,” Walmart said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We’ve recently shared our plans to change the responsibilities of the people greeter role in some stores and that involves associates with disabilities in some cases.”
The Associated Press reported that affected associates were told last week that their positions would be eliminated on April 26 for the host roles. To qualify to be a host, they need to be able to lift 25-pound packages, climb ladders and stand for long periods.
Walmart said it recognizes associates with physical disabilities face “a unique situation.”
“With that in mind, we will be extending the current 60-day greeter transition period for associates with disabilities while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store,” Walmart said in the statement.
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Walmart founder Sam Walton championed the greeters program, which started in the early 1980s.
In 2015, Walmart started a pilot program for the customer hosts, which was expanded in May 2016, according to a company blog post. The host is an associate that “greets customers, but also checks receipts where appropriate, assists with returns and helps keep entrances clean and safe,” Walmart described in the blog.
Across the country, customers have started rallying around some of the longtime employees.
In Marion, North Carolina, an online petition was started to keep Jay Melton at his greeter job of 17 years. Melton has cerebral palsy and can’t walk without assistance, according to the petition, which has close to 14,600 signatures.
“Jay’s disability doesn’t allow him to do” many of the host job responsibilities, the petition notes. “So that means that he could soon lose his job when the changes go into effect.”
Holly Catlin wrote a public Facebook post about her son Adam Caltin, who has cerebral palsy and has worked as a greeter at the Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, Walmart for nine years. The Feb. 18 post has been shared nearly 10,000 times and has close to 4,000 comments.
“You all know that Adam loves his job sooo much and does it with his whole heart. He looks forward to you and your families, especially your kiddos. He seems to know them all by name,” Holly Catlin wrote. “He beams from ear to ear when he speaks of his co-workers and management. They are his family in his eyes.”
The Walmart change has prompted at least three complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a federal lawsuit in Utah alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the federal law, employers must provide “reasonable” accommodations to workers with disabilities.
Walmart officials said that after it made the change from greeters to hosts at more than 1,000 stores in 2016, 80 to 85 percent of all affected greeters found other roles at Walmart.
Walmart initially told greeters they would have 60 days to land other jobs at the company, but the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for greeters with disabilities.
“This allows these associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all of those involved,” the company said in the statement.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Many disabled Walmart greeters are being replaced by ‘customer hosts,’ causing backlash