Walmart will require employees in some stores to wear masks

By: Moira Ritter, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- Walmart employees are required to wear masks inside again, regardless of vaccination status, in places with "substantial or high transmission." The new policy is effective immediately, the nation's largest retailer said Friday.

Store managers will receive local updates every Monday to determine their facility's necessary protocol.

Customers will not be required to wear a mask, but facilities will post signs to remind them of the CDC's new guidelines, and will strongly encourage the use of masks.

While Walmart is not mandating that employees get vaccinated, it will soon implement a new process to verify their vaccine status, and is strongly encouraging workers to get vaccinated. As part of its push for vaccination, the company is offering employees the chance to get vaccinated while on the clock and up to three days paid leave for any reaction to the shot.

Additionally, Walmart is doubling its current vaccine incentive to $150. Originally, the company was offering employees $75 to get vaccinated. Current employees who get vaccinated and new employees who were vaccinated before they started at Walmart are all eligible to receive the bonus.

The decision to reinstate a mask mandate comes following updated guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Tuesday, recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in areas with high transmission rates of Covid-19. That currently includes nearly two-thirds of all US counties.

Walmart first implemented a mandatory mask policy for all shoppers and employees in July 2020. The company then repealed its policy in May following updated CDC guidance that fully vaccinated individuals were safe to go without masks in most circumstances. However, since the CDC's initial guidance for repealing mask mandates, the Delta variant has caused a surge in cases while the rate of vaccinations has lagged.

Most other large retailers including Target, Trader Joe's, Publix and Costco ditched mask mandates in May, too, but are now re-evaluating their policies.

Maria Brous, a spokesperson for Publix, said the company is "reviewing the updated CDC guidance" and "would provide updates regarding our policies as appropriate," following Tuesday's new guidance.

Enforcing mask rules with customers has been challenging for retailers throughout the pandemic. Employees are often responsible for monitoring customer behaviors, and interactions have turned violent. Last month, a Georgia grocery store clerk was killed by a customer in a dispute over masks.

As the pandemic persists, customers are being asked "to be mindful of the guidance provided bylocal retailers" and to "respect employees and their fellow customers who may continue to wear masks for the safety of themselves and their family," Brian Dodge, president of Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement Tuesday.

-- CNN Business' Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this report.

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