Walmart Inc. will offer “enhanced” severance packages to the employees laid off this week, the company said in a memo to staff. The retailer said it wants to give extra support to these workers because of the economic uncertainty related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Bloomberg, which first reported the layoffs, said Thursday that hundreds of jobs were cut at Walmart’s Bentonville headquarters, company spokeswoman Jami Lamontagne said Friday that the changes being made are occurring in various locations within its U.S. division.
Besides Bentonville, Walmart has U.S. offices in Silicon Valley and the New York City area.
Lamontagne said some employees are being moved into new positions and some are being promoted, while others will consider other jobs within the company and still others may ultimately choose to leave.
“With the number of moving pieces, providing an estimate at this time wouldn’t provide a clear picture” of the scale of the layoffs, Lamontagne said.
John Furner, chief executive officer of Walmart U.S., and Marc Lore, chief executive of Walmart U.S. e-commerce, said in the memo provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette late Thursday that all affected workers will be paid through the end of the fiscal year, which is Jan. 31.
Employees also have “dedicated support” as they look for new roles within the company. They can work one-on-one with an internal recruiting partner to find a suitable position.
Those who do find other jobs at Walmart will keep their former salaries for one year if the new positions pay less than their previous ones. They will also receive their bonus for this year.
Workers who don’t stay with the retailer will still get this year’s bonus and unspecified “transition benefits,” along with whatever severance pay they are eligible for.
The memo said new ways of working at the company include continuing to create one merchandising team “that takes a unified view of the customer” and building a product team “that can get out ahead of what our customers are looking for,” and using better data and technology to operate more efficiently throughout the company.
“Achieving this will require making choices and we’re taking some important but difficult steps this week,” the memo said. “We are streamlining some roles so we can be more effective and efficient. At the same time, we’re creating new roles, particularly in our supply chain, in our stores and in other facilities, which will open up new opportunities.”
“No one takes decisions like these lightly, and we are committed to supporting our associates throughout this process,” it said.
Though Northwest Arkansas’ unemployment rate is lower than the rest of the state’s, it’s still much higher than in recent years, said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the University of Arkansas’ Center for Business and Economic Research. “The current job market is difficult regardless of what industry a person is in,” he said, “so it’s not a very good time to be seeking employment.”
The U.S. unemployment rate was 11.1% in June, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Arkansas stood at 8%, and in Northwest Arkansas the rate was 6.4%.
While some of the laid-off workers may be able to stay with Walmart, Jebaraj said, others may find work with its suppliers. “But traditionally, Walmart corporate jobs pay much higher than vendor jobs, so they may be taking a pay cut,” he said. “That may result in some people leaving the region.”