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COVID-19

Retailers are requiring customers to wear masks. Who should enforce it?

Marielle Segarra Jul 27, 2020
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A restaurant employee posts a sign informing guests that face masks are required. In some instances, the rule can spark a confrontation. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Image
COVID-19

Retailers are requiring customers to wear masks. Who should enforce it?

Marielle Segarra Jul 27, 2020
Heard on:
A restaurant employee posts a sign informing guests that face masks are required. In some instances, the rule can spark a confrontation. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Image
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Even though there is abundant evidence that wearing face masks slows down the spread of the coronavirus, there is a subset of people who refuse to wear masks — even when it’s mandatory.

When some passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Atlanta last week refused to mask up, the plane turned back to Detroit Metro Airport. That’s not an option for the retailers that now require customers to wear masks. So what are they supposed to do?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask.

When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control. 

“It’s simply too much to ask a front-line retail worker who is already concerned for her health during this crisis and still showing up for work, to also intervene in something that could escalate quite rapidly,” said Joel Bines, a managing director at AlixPartners.

So a lot of retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates.

Craig Rowley, a senior client partner for Korn Ferry, said that’s similar to the way stores handle shoplifting. They tell workers to say things like “Would you like me to hold those slippers for you at the register?”

“But if the person runs out the door, most retailers will tell the employee don’t chase the thief,” Rowley said. “It’s not safe for you, and it’s not safe for the people around you.”

Rowley said even if retailers don’t enforce the rules, just having them will get more people to wear masks. It’s worked on him. He used to forget to mask up when he went to the supermarket. 

“Sometimes I’d say, ‘I’m going in for a loaf of bread. I’ll be in and out. I won’t cause any problems,’ ” he said. “But now I don’t. I’m 100% of the time wearing my mask into the store.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is calling on stores to enforce mask rules with local police or trained security guards. But in Michigan, a man shot and killed a Family Dollar security guard for telling a family member to wear a mask.

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