Should retailers continue to require associates and customers to wear masks?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
May 14, 2021

Americans who have received full doses of COVID-19 vaccines (one or two shots, depending on the manufacturer) and have allowed at least two weeks to pass will now be free to go about their daily activities without wearing a mask. This applies both to outdoor as well as most indoor activities, with the exception of airline travel, public transport and certain other mandated situations. Everyone else needs to keep wearing masks, particularly in indoor environments. Those are the basic rules laid out in new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provided the caveat that citizens should continue to follow local and/or state rules as they apply to mask wearing.

The guidance did not specifically address businesses, although the takeaways seem clear for public-facing companies. Masks should continue to be worn by all that have not been vaccinated even when state or local rules say otherwise. That means, in practical terms, that unless a retailer has a way to verify people have been vaccinated before they enter stores, it is prudent that they continue to enforce mask wearing rules. This seems to be particularly true in locations where COVID-19 disinformation is prevalent and vaccination rates are low.

Business owners and employers are being cautioned by workplace experts not to fling open the doors and throw away their masks just yet.

Kevin Troutman, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Houston, told SHRM Online, that employers should wait until the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updates its workplace safety guidance before making any changes.

The New York Times reports that some states have lifted mandates following the CDC’s announcement and others are holding off. Governors in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia all said they were reviewing the guidance. Others in Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania have begun to lift mandates.

Businesses want clarity so it’s no surprise that many are not doing a happy dance after the CDC’s announcement.

Lisa LaBruno, senior executive vice president, retail operations and innovation at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said yesterday that the CDC had created ambiguity and “conflicting positions put retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations.”

“We urge all retail customers and guests to follow a store’s safety protocols including wearing a mask and social distancing,” said Ms. Bruno. “Frontline workers deserve this respect. Retailers encourage customers that do not want to wear a mask to shop online or via curbside pickup offerings.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you advise retailers to address mask wearing and social distancing in stores at this point in time? What are the implications for retailers that lift mask requirements in places where such restrictions are unpopular and COVID-19 vaccine rates are low?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It is still too difficult to determine who is/is not vaccinated and most customers and members still feel safer with masks and the businesses are siding with public opinion"
"The discussion about wearing masks has just become intensely complicated."
"Err on the side of caution regarding associates though for both safety and also to send a signal."

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38 Comments on "Should retailers continue to require associates and customers to wear masks?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I would urge frontline retail workers to continue to follow current safety protocols. No doubt these workers are tired of wearing masks and the other hygiene protocols, but health/safety is still the most important issue. The lifting mask requirements, while welcome by all, will make it virtually impossible for retailers to enforce any kind of mask regulation, since it will be impossible to police or verify if shoppers have been vaccinated. This is also why frontline workers should still wear masks.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The mask (actually no-mask) announcement just came out. It will take some time to figure this out. My first thought is safety first. What protocols are in place to ensure the safety, and at the same time, confidence of our customers? How do you know who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t? This creates another step that some customers might find offensive. For now, you make a decision and stay with it. Train employees how to manage the decision. If you require masks, have them ready to give away to the ones who aren’t carrying. If you don’t require masks, be prepared to possibly lose customers who are uncomfortable not knowing who is shopping next to them.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

The recent announcement by the CDC makes it very difficult for retailers to continue the requirement for masks for customers.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Although a “return to normal” is anxiously welcome by all, without a means of identifying who is vaccinated and who is not, I suspect retailers will continue to enforce a mask rule and social distancing for the time being. Perhaps in another 60-90 days — presuming the rate of infection continues to decline and the potential for spikes because of careless behavior is thwarted — retailers could revisit this.

Bottom line: I would personally encourage retailers to err on the side of caution and continue to enforce a mask rule.

Jennifer Bartashus
BrainTrust

Retailers have played an important role in helping to set and maintain safety standards during the pandemic. It would be an unfair burden on them to have to try to figure out who can/can’t wear masks in stores. In the interest of protecting the safety of employees and customers, mask policies should stay in place until the bulk of the population is vaccinated or herd immunity is achieved.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, assuming the CDC is correct, the unvaccinated are only putting themselves at risk — not those who are fully vaccinated. So some of the risk-bearing becomes a matter of personal responsibility. (Unfortunately, there seems to be a political correlation between mask resistance and vaccine resistance, with no tools to verify the fully vaccinated on the horizon.)

On the other hand, there are still populations at risk through no fault of their own — especially children under 12. Until we collectively get closer to the “herd immunity” goal, it’s probably best for retailers to exercise caution.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Well stated, Dick Seesel. I agree 100 percent.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

Retailers and their employees should comply with laws and health recommendations. Beyond that, some customers may not care if employees are wearing masks, but since some will care, I think retailers should require their employees to wear masks to make the shopping environment as safe and welcoming as possible until there is no remaining threat.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

The CDC did us absolutely no favors with this new mask guidance. I don’t understand why they felt the need to rush this decision, and in doing so they have put store teams in a very difficult position. Many people, regardless of vaccination status, will immediately abandon their masks, and local laws and store policies will become extremely difficult to enforce in light of the national CDC guidance. I would strongly encourage retailers to require store associates to continue wearing their masks and to maintain mask policies for customers, even if enforcement will now become more challenging.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Exactly, Dave. I am sure by the evening news we will hear about confrontations in stores regarding mask wearing. The announcement, without better guidance, is just bizarre!

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 6 days ago

What do you expect from this CDC? Not many weeks ago the head of it was talking like the grim reaper and pretending to cry about being so upset over the COVID and how dire things would get and now they are lifting the requirements.

I too find it very odd they made this announcement when they did, with rather limited guidance, and it sort of seemed to be rushed and came out of nowhere. I get they are happy with vaccination rates and that seems to be their main reasoning for this but what happened to all those new deadly COVID variants that were heading here like the one from India that was supposed to make it so dire for us? Either they know something we don’t (like they have sensationalized this whole thing beyond belief and the jig is about to be up), or they are being terribly reckless here.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I fully believe in the science and still wear a mask though fully vaccinated. It is important to note we are in the waning days of the pandemic. It is not 2020. I think there is an element from some employees I’ve encountered lately who seem to have a chip on their shoulder and make themselves into mask police with zero tolerance. It’s as if they are looking for a confrontation. To help with that, if it were me, I would have already paid associates an $100 bonus for having gotten vaccinated so they wouldn’t be concerned as much about personal safety.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 6 days ago

I am fortunate in that I have not seen a mask confrontation in months now. In my immediate area, everyone is wearing masks (not always properly … but at least mouth is covered). I have been into some stores out of town especially in multiple counties in rural Northern California where I see more customers here and there without a mask on and nobody cares or does anything about it and it has been that way this whole time.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

We have discussed several times the issues that retail workers faced when customers refused to wear masks. Some of the confrontations were ugly. Now the situation may become more confrontational. How do we know who is vaccinated and who is not? To me, for retailers, the only answer is “no mask, no service.”

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

The discussion about wearing masks has just become intensely complicated. The CDC announcement is based on science, and I do not want to get into a discussion of questioning science. If we are to be consistent with the stand that the industry took at the beginning of the pandemic to err on the side of safety, we should continue to do so now. More important than masks I believe is to require that employees are vaccinated. Sadly however any enforcement of mask wearing for customers will be impossible to enforce now. I hate the idea that front line retail workers will take the brunt of the anti-mask crowd. But if they are vaccinated and the data the CDC cites is accurate, they should be fine.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I smell a political rabbit hole! But here goes — if anyone thinks COVID-19 is over, they’re nuts. It’s a global issue and right now, two-thirds of the world is on fire. I would urge retailers and anyone with common sense to stay vigilant. If you’re vaccinated and your close ones are vaccinated it’s obviously a different level of vigilance, but only half the U.S. has had ONE shot, the other half — nothing. Anyway, I could care less if you’re red or blue, here’s a fact: 136 people a day have been diagnosed with the bug in my county this week — so throw the masks out? C’mon.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 6 days ago

COVID is over as far as most of the US population is concerned. It doesn’t matter that cases are growing in your area, evidently those new super contagious more deadly variances like from India that are supposedly coming out way no longer matter either.

This announcement about dropping the masks I find very suspicious why they did it, but they did it. So that is that.

I think they may have sensed the public has had enough….

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I am in total agreement with Lisa LaBruno’s comments. Frontline workers do deserve the respect of the business and management on this issue. I don’t think it will be long until we all will be comfortable with a no-masks-needed statement, but this current somewhat arbitrary, somewhat foggy consensus makes it hard for management.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Businesses in my area (grocery stores, gyms, etc) have been polling their customers and members and most have said they will still be wearing their masks – so the businesses will continue to require masks to enter the stores. It is still too difficult to determine who is vaccinated and who is not and most customers and members still feel safer with masks and the businesses are siding with public opinion.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

We will probably see instances where aggressive mask wearers confront people who do not wear masks demanding they show proof of vaccination. The U.S. has reached 50 percent vaccination rates. While it is not at herd immunity levels, people who wanted/needed to get a vaccine are getting that without too many delays. The stress on the healthcare system is way down. I think the time has come to ease towards normality, as opposed to hunkering down.

While there is always a very small risk of renewed infections like the horrors India is experiencing, the dynamics are totally different.

I think the CDC should unequivocally say: “Vaccine passports make your life easy. If you are vaccinated, you can participate without a mask. ” This couching and giving various exceptions is actually muddling the message and doesn’t do much to encourage fence-sitters or procrastinators to get vaccinated.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

I would suggest continued mask-wearing and social distancing for everyone’s safety. However it’s becoming more difficult to try to regulate this and frontline workers shouldn’t be the ones monitoring and enforcing these requirements. This may end up needing to be reviewed on a store-by-store basis based on the local environment.