Is it time for retail associates to drop their masks?
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.
- Walmart Drops Its Mask Rules for Vaccinated Workers – The Wall Street Journal
- Walmart says vaccinated workers no longer have to wear masks in most states. – The New York Times
- Walmart drops mask mandate for vaccinated employees – CNN
- Should retailers stick to vaccine mandates and change face mask rules? – RetailWire
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?