Walmart Employees With Special Needs Fear Losing Jobs
SELINSGROVE, Pa. — Adam Catlin celebrated his 10th year as a greeter at Walmart’s Selinsgrove Supercenter in December.
Now, he fears he’s about to lose his job because of his disability.
A change in job duties at the front door calls for “people greeters” to give way to “customer hosts,” taking on tasks that Catlin said his disability won’t allow.
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“It was a little bit of a shock. They just told me on Saturday. They called me into the manager’s office and said the job code was changing. They said I would have to lift 25 pounds, be able to walk a lot, extensive standing,” said Catlin, 30, of Middleburg, in an interview last week. Catlin said he was told a decision on his employment would be made by April 26.
“I can’t lift 25 pounds and hang onto a walker. I need to be able to walk,” he said.
Cerebral palsy restricts strength and range of motion. Catlin relies on a walker to hold himself upright and walk. A commando crawl is often his only way in and out of tight spaces. Though he’s able with some help to perform specific weight lifts, like the bench press, holding a cup or utensils or even shaking hands challenge his fine motor skills.
Catlin said he could receive disability benefits but prefers to work. He said he averages 32 hours weekly at the only job he’s ever worked. He arrives 30 minutes early for his shifts, he said, and doesn’t have any demerits for accountability or performance. He said his main responsibility is to greet customers as they come and go.
Grasping a pen, creating documents on a computer, reaching overhead, bending at the waist, carrying merchandise up to 25 pounds — all are among physical activities a “customer host” will be called upon to do. Catlin said he is not capable of any of them.
He isn’t alone.
There are similar accounts from East Stroudsburg as well as New York and Ohio where employees with cerebral palsy — one of whom had 21 years at the store — ended up out of a job when the stores moved away from greeter positions. A corporate blog post says greeters can apply for the new jobs or other positions or accept severance pay.
In January, the company won a judgment against a 19-year employee with cerebral palsy in New York who filed a discrimination claim for his dismissal from his job as a lawn and garden associate.
Money isn’t an issue, Catlin said. Having a job is a point of pride.
Word spread fast on social media that the greeter with a wide smile could soon be gone from the store, drawing thousands of angry responses. He said he was approached throughout a recent six-hour shift by people offering their support.
“I didn’t know what to say. I asked them for help. (The manager) said he didn’t know what to tell me,” Catlin said.
Store management declined to comment, referring reporters to corporate headquarters.
The timing of the matter hasn’t helped Catlin and his family. A sister, Ashley Catlin, died suddenly on Dec. 30. His father fell ill, too, and was hospitalized last week. At their sister’s viewing, Catlin asked how soon he could get back to work. He saw it as a way to escape grieving and achieve a sense of normalcy.
“I think it’s ridiculous. He’s dedicated so much of his life to Walmart,” a sister, Amber Piermattei, said. “Even if he doesn’t get his job back, it’s important we’re raising awareness about this.”
Kory Lundberg, a corporate spokesman for Walmart, said the transition to customer host positions began in 2016 and has since expanded to more than 1,000 stores. It adds more responsibility and more pay to the position of greeter, he said.
Lundberg said store management did consult Catlin on applying for the new job or other positions in store.
“As we have done in other locations where we’ve added Customer Hosts, our management team will continue to support our associates as they consider other open positions in the store and those in nearby locations,” Lundberg said.
A photo collage of Catlin winning a gold medal at a national Special Olympics competition still hung last week inside the store by the customer service area.
Brian Habermehl works for The Arc, Susquehanna Valley, leading its self-advocate groups in programming designed to help people with disabilities or special needs become self-reliant. He also has cerebral palsy.
Asked what kind of message Walmart is sending, Habermehl said “the wrong one.”
“Adam is an accomplished athlete, a ray of sunshine. Walmart themselves have a picture of him hung at their store by the registers,” Habermehl said.
Catlin holds out hope that he can retain the job he loves.
“I love everyone there and they are all part of my family and I would really miss that,” Catlin said.
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