Days after announcing customers are required to wear face masks while shopping in their stores, major U.S. retailers appear to be showing leniency in how the rules are enforced.
Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walgreens and CVS had initially required shoppers to wear masks but now in the hope of avoiding confrontations between angry customers and employees it appears to be little more than a suggestion, rather than a legally enforceable instruction.
Having retailers take on the role of the ‘mask police’ puts them in an uncomfortable position at a time when many shops are in no position financially to refuse business.
Major retailers brought in rules requiring masks to be worn by customers including Walmart, pictured, but some companies are saying there is little they can do if people ignore the request
Because there is no requirement federally or legally across the country to wear a mask, and with many states having been lax in creating policies insisting residents wear them in shops, retailers are on their own when it comes to enforcing the policy.
As the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise in many states, there is concern over how best to protect customers and workers from infecting one another.
‘Many retailers feel like they have to act since some governors haven’t,’ said Melissa Murdock, spokesperson for the Retail Industry Leaders Association to CNN.
The group has been lobbying governors to require masks be worn in all 50 states but in the meantime, it will fall to individual stores to implement their policy.
Companies that had previously announced a ‘mask-on’ policy now say they won’t challenge customers who refuse to wear them and police will also not be called
Target said that it will hand out masks at entrances to those who need them
‘Either security or management needs to tell people that they must wear a face mask in order to be served. It’s no different than wearing shoes or a shirt,’ said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
‘If companies are not requiring customers to wear a mask within their store, then they never had a requirement. All they had was a public relations stunt.’
In recent weeks, so-called ‘anti-maskers’ have triggered violent incidents at stores and restaurants that have requested customers wear them.
In May, a security guard working at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was shot and killed after he told a customer to wear a mask.
There have also been dozens of videos of confrontations between angry customers and clerks in stores clashing over the rules.
Kroger (pictured) joined Kohl’s, Walmart and other stores last week which said that it was to be compulsory for shoppers to wear masks
Retailers are trying to walk a fine line between enforcement and friendly service. Pictured, customers wearing face masks enter a Home Depot Home Improvement store last weekend
Walmart, the largest retailer in the country, has said that it intends to place employees called ‘health ambassadors’ at the entrance to stores reminding shoppers to wear a mask as they are walking in.
However, if customers refuse and also decline the offer of a free mask being given to them, the staff members are instructed to let the customers walk into the store and notify management ‘so that they can determine the next steps.’
A corporate video instructs ambassadors never to engage with a customer physically or try to block their entrance into the store.
‘With every requirement there are exceptions that have been established to avoid escalating the situation and putting our associates in harm’s way. Our goal is to keep associates from a physical confrontation in the stores,’ a Walmart representative said. ‘
CVS is not asking its employees to act as enforcers of the policy but will advise customers of other options for the future such as ordering online
Small children and those suffering from health conditions will be exempt from wearing masks.
Lowe’s home improvement chain is also requesting customers wear masks and is providing free masks to those who need them.
‘We will not ask our associates to put their safety at risk by confronting customers about wearing masks,’ a Lowe’s representative said.
At Home Depot, a requirement to wear masks will also not be challenged by staff by those who don’t.
Employees have been told not to block the entrance or chase after a customer if they are not wearing one.
Some stores have stated that if a customer refuses to comply they will be served quickly and encouraged to order online to avoid future encounters. A worker is seen wearing a mask while organizing merchandise at a Walmart store in New Jersey
CVS has asked for its customers to ‘cooperate’ with the mask-on policy.
‘In the event of non-compliance, for safety reasons, we have asked our employees to avoid escalated confrontations with non-compliant customers, and to instead help them complete their purchases as quickly as possible while providing information about other options we have available for their future needs, including free home delivery for prescriptions and our drive-thru window service,’ a company rep said to DailyMail.com.
Some retailers have hired of private security guards to help enforce store policy but there are varying responses from firms over whether they will call the police to deal with those who break the new rules.
CVS and Home Depot have stated they would not call police if a customer decides not to wear a mask. At the Home Depot a representative noted that if the customer ‘becomes combative or habitually refuses to comply, we’ll take further action to prevent them from entering our stores.’
Walmart too, said they wouldn’t rule out calling the police on ‘customers who become belligerent’ when it comes to enforcing the mask policy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been consistent about recommending people cover their mouth and nose when around others to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But at the beginning of the lockdowns, it had discouraged people who were not sick from buying masks for fear of taking away what was then a limited supply for health care workers.
Confrontations with customers have played out in multiple incidents caught on video. One video showed a man pulling a gun on a father and his daughter at a Walmart
FACE MASK POLICY IN US STORES
A growing list of U.S. retailers and grocers are asking shoppers at their stores to wear face coverings, a widely accepted protective measure to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
The latest store policy comes as U.S. states are conflicted over making masks compulsory, with some governors even suspending local face-mask regulations.
AMAZON / WHOLE FOODS
Its Whole Foods Market and Amazon stores will require customers to wear face coverings beginning July 20.
The iPhone maker said in May it would require customers to wear face coverings in most places around the world.
BED BATH & BEYOND
The requirement to wear masks will take effect on July 24 at about 1,500 of its stores across North America.
The electronics retailer imposed the rule on July 15 and said, it would provide a face covering if a customer did not have one.
The company implemented a mandatory mask policy for its members and guests in May, exempting children under the age of 2 and individuals unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition.
The pharmacy chain will implement the rule at its stores from July 20, but said it was not asking its employees to act as enforcers.
The apparel retailer said masks will be required for all customers at its Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Intermix and Janie and Jack stores in North America , effective August 1.
The home improvement chain said it requires customers wear masks while inside its U.S. stores, starting July 22.
The department store chain, which started reopening stores only a few weeks back, will make masks a requirement across stores starting July 20.
The grocer will require the use of face masks at all its locations from July 22.
The home improvement retailer is adopting a nationwide standard starting July 20, and will offer free masks while supplies last.
The world’s largest coffee chain made it mandatory to wear masks at all its company-owned cafes in the United States on July 15.
The retailer’s mask policy will be effective from August 1, with an exception for those with underlying medical conditions and young children.
The company, which will apply the rule starting July 20, said it will add store signage and intercom messages to remind shoppers to wear masks.
The world’s largest retailer said about 65% of its over 5,000 U.S. stores, including its wholesale Sam’s Club outlets, were in areas where there was already some form of government mandate on face coverings. Its new policy will now apply to all stores.