Is it time for retail associates to drop their masks?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Feb 14, 2022

Walmart in an internal memo Friday said it has ended mask mandates and its COVID-19 sick leave policy for employees, while phasing out daily health screenings. The Wall Street Journal first reported the retailer’s policy change.

The changes apply unless required by a state or local mandate or ordinance. Unvaccinated employees, as well as those working in clinical care settings, such as pharmacies, will still be required to wear masks. Walmart has been requesting that shoppers wear masks in localities that require them.

The policy changes come as 11 states, including New York and California, last week moved to end masking mandates as COVID-19 infection rates fall.

On Thursday, Amazon.com likewise said vaccinated employees in warehouses in states that had dropped mandates could opt out of wearing masks.

After relaxing mask mandates for vaccinated associates last spring, Walmart reinstated them in July in U.S. counties deemed at high risk of COVID-19 transmission as Delta variant cases rose. In December, the retailer brought mask requirements back for all staffers as Omicron-related surges began.

As of March 31, Walmart will also end its pandemic sick pay plan that had been in place for the past two years to cover COVID-related illnesses. The policy gave hourly workers extra paid time off for COVID-19 illnesses, exposures or COVID-like symptoms, beyond their standard sick-leave pay. Amazon said it was taking away COVID-19-related paid leave for employees who aren’t vaccinated.

Walmart said daily health screenings before each shift would no longer be necessary for workers, except those in California, New York and Virginia.

The moves come despite continued pushback from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which still recommends that masks be worn in areas of substantial or high transmission, and in educational settings, regardless of vaccination status. Since the pandemic began, most large retailers had moved in lockstep with the CDC on vaccine and mask policies.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it the appropriate time to end mask mandates for in-store associates and warehouse workers? Do you feel similarly about ending COVID-19 sick leave policies and phasing out daily health screenings?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It may make more sense for retailers to have a flexible mask policy to help the retailer stay aligned with customer expectations region by region."
"It’s becoming time for this to be an individual’s choice."
"...there is also no reason this shouldn’t continue to be very much a data driven exercise."

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12 Comments on "Is it time for retail associates to drop their masks?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Every retailer will need to make their own decisions about when to end the mask mandates. Notwithstanding the CDC’s ongoing concern, it sure feels like it’s time to loosen mask mandates. That said, employees should always have the option to wear masks if they feel safer by doing so. The same applies to the sick leave policies – retailers need to make the best decisions for their staff and should adjust to conditions as required.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

It is appropriate for individual retail employees to decide if they wish to wear masks. And no one should judge their determination either to wear them or not to wear them. In my view, government mandates and diktats should now come to an end and personal responsibility and judgement should take precedence. That said, if I ran a retailer I would still offer health screenings and enhanced sick pay for those that wanted or needed it.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I fully agree. And the vast majority of people will take personal responsibly and have good judgement as we all did through the height of the pandemic. Sadly, even when the virus was most virulent, too many never took responsibly for others’ welfare. I don’t expect those folks to be more diligent now.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

I believe the best way to do it is to stay compliant with the directive from state/local governments. If the masks are mandated, do it. If they are only recommended, make them optional. I have never understood why retailers have to make their own mask mandates that are different – more lenient or stricter – from what the local government wants them to do.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

Without government mask mandates, ultimately retailers should have the freedom to do whatever their customers demand. It may make more sense for retailers to have a flexible mask policy to help the retailer stay aligned with customer expectations region by region.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

With regard to masks, every situation is different. The employers not only should eliminate the mandates if the data warrants, but also watch the numbers very carefully. If a spike is developing, put the masks back on.

Please continue the health screenings. If one warehouse worker is found positive, send him home and have the workers wear masks again, or risk spreading the virus and closing the warehouse.

Scott Norris
Guest

As long as the retailer assumes responsibility when staff and customers get sick/injured when the next spike occurs – I hope their liability insurance is paid up! When my wife’s middle school dropped mask mandates for the 6th-graders two weeks ago, right on cue another big wave of student and teacher absences rolled in just a couple days later. Why would we expect nothing bad to happen by relaxing our guard yet again?

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

It’s very east to fall into a “enough already!” mindset at this point. Two years of pandemic has worn us out on many levels. But there is also no reason this shouldn’t continue to be very much a data driven exercise. The need for sweeping mandates may have passed, but this is still a very regional and local issue. The breadth of the pandemic may have abated, but for those that do get infected it’s still a serious event. Screenings and sick pay policies should hang around a while longer. Smaller pockets of the virus may not make national news going forward, but to that community it’s still a big deal.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Policies for masking should certainly be reviewed (and individuals allowed to continue masking as they feel comfortable) as conditions change, but revoking Covid-related health care benefits seems churlish for those that need them.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

It’s becoming time for this to be an individual’s choice. Hopefully the need for mandates for public good are rapidly fading. If an individual employee chooses to stay masked based on their own personal health scenario, they should certainly be free to do so. After many years of international travel, I recall that some individuals who presumably had colds and were being courteous to others wore masks — way back before COVID.

storewanderer
Guest
9 months 23 days ago

The problem I see is, does this mean employees will be working when sick again? Maybe you make a policy requiring sick employees to wear a mask?

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

Yes, I think retailers can start taking steps to end mask mandates of store staff and warehouse workers. The third wave had a less severe impact than the previous waves. People have learned how to protect themselves from the virus and will take the appropriate precautions even without masks mandates.

Additionally, COVID-19 sick leave regulations and daily screening can be phased away over time. However, both employers and workers must be socially responsible in this situation. Everyone must make efforts on a personal level, keep an eye on trouble spots, and ensure that they are keeping themselves and others safe.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It may make more sense for retailers to have a flexible mask policy to help the retailer stay aligned with customer expectations region by region."
"It’s becoming time for this to be an individual’s choice."
"...there is also no reason this shouldn’t continue to be very much a data driven exercise."

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