Should retailers stick to vaccine mandates and change face mask rules?

Discussion
Photo: Starbucks
Jan 20, 2022

Companies with 100 or more employees have choices to make in the wake of last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court that overturned a federal government mandate to require workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing for the virus. Some, such as Carhartt, are choosing to stick with their plans to require vaccinations or testing while others, including Starbucks, are not.

The workwear brand made news with its plan to require workers to get vaccinated. The Washington Post reports that Carhartt CEO Mark Valade sent an email last week to employees to explain the company’s position.

“We put workplace safety at the very top of our priority list and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling doesn’t impact that core value,” Mr. Valade wrote. “We, and the medical community, continue to believe vaccines are necessary to ensure a safe working environment for every associate and even perhaps their households.”

Carhartt’s decision is being celebrated in some quarters and criticized in others. Some critics are calling for the company to either rescind its policy or face a boycott. The company, to this point, has remained steadfast in its position that vaccinations are critical to protecting its workforce and business interests.

The workwear brand is not alone in requiring vaccinations for employees. Some, such as Walmart, have required corporate workers to get vaccinated but not mandating the same for the rest of their workforce, reports Footwear News. Other retailers, including Macy’s and TJX, still require employees to be vaccinated.

Starbucks’ employees learned this week that they would no longer be required to be vaccinated or undergo testing as a term of employment. A memo sent on Tuesday to workers from COO John Culver said that the company supports “the spirit and intent of the mandate” but would “comply” with the court’s ruling.

The coffee giant has made a change to its mask policy with a requirement that workers now wear N95, KN95 or KF94 face coverings, based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cloth masks, which have proven ineffective against the Omicron variant, will no longer be allowed by the company, according to Associated Press and CNBC reports.

Starbucks has also expanded its isolation policy to provide workers with paid time off if they have been exposed to individuals testing positive for COVID-19.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers require employees to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing? Should retailers mandate that employees wear N95, KN95 or KF94 due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Regardless of what the Supreme Court thinks, companies have a responsibility to keep their employees safe."
"Turns out you can be double-vaxxed and boosted and still get the bug, so I think it’s more about the masks at this stage."
"Even as customers are not required to wear masks, I believe they appreciate the fact that employees are wearing them."

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19 Comments on "Should retailers stick to vaccine mandates and change face mask rules?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

The SCOTUS decision to not allow mandates has put retailers in a tough position. I applaud the courage of Mr. Valade and his decision to move forward with his company’s vaccination mandate. Valade said it best, “We put workplace safety at the very top of our priority list and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling doesn’t impact that core value.” Each business will now need to determine how they wish to proceed – there is no win/win here. Either way, some employees/customers will be happy and others unhappy.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Regular testing is only good enough to predict the past. If testing proves positive, one may have already infected numerous other people, while vaccination is expected to be preventative. With that background, vaccination should be mandated. Masks should be required to protect not only customers, but the worker we ask to be on the front lines. The constitutionality of mandates is a different discussion. Common sense rules should prevail, but they may not. Then we get into constitutionality.

Ben Ball
Guest

“Common sense rules should prevail…” The crux of the matter in a five word phrase — well done Bob! Would that it were constitutional to legislate common sense behavior. That’s a case I would gladly serve as lead plaintiff for!

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Turns out you can be double-vaxxed and boosted and still get the bug, so I think it’s more about the masks at this stage. Besides, what we know about vaccines is that they can keep you from getting sicker so if you want to get sicker — go for it with not getting it. But by wearing a mask, you decrease the odds of making us all sick. I’m a mask man, 100 percent.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I agree. Even as customers are not required to wear masks, I believe they appreciate the fact that employees are wearing them.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s important to be vaccinated and it’s still important to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there are some other questions that need to be answered first:

Tests are hard to come by. Is the employer providing the tests? Who is paying for the testing, the employer or the employee? Is the company providing paid time off for the employee to go get tested? Will the company accept home test results or does it require a PCR? And who is paying for the N95, KN95 or KF94 face coverings and where are they coming from?

And of course, a lot relies on the available labor pool and how many open positions the company has before implementing a policy such as the one at Carthartt. There is a lot to unpack here that will differ from company to company. It will never be a one size fits all situation.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

It is up to individual retailers to determine mandates and vaccine requirements. However now that federal rules have been struck down, my view is that most will not require vaccines or regular testing. That said, I do think all retailers should offer their employees good protection in the form of superior masks, tests, time off for vaccines and so forth.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

This is two questions.

  1. Yes, I support vaccine mandates. At least 70 percent of the people will be VERY appreciative. Not sure about the anti-vaxxers. Each retailer gets to decide if THEIR customers care.
  2. The mask mandate answer is simple: YES, retailers should mandate mask wearing by employees. Vaccines don’t seem to stop omicron. The number of breakthrough cases is pretty insane. People I know who have been really careful are getting it. So there are two sides to this equation: a.) you don’t want to give COVID-19 to your customers and b.) you don’t want a workforce hobbled by COVID-19 and in isolation. My local Walgreens had to close the pharmacy last Saturday because it didn’t have enough staff for a shift. Of course, if those masks become “chin diapers,” everyone is kidding themselves and will end up with the same hobbled workforce.
Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Employers who can enforce vaccine rules while maintaining their workforce should do so — especially for the workers’ safety. Obviously Starbucks felt that it couldn’t maintain a full staff with its vaccine rules, but it now runs the different risk of widespread infection.

As to masks, I don’t think KN95-style mandates are enforceable (not to mention mask mandates in general in many parts of the country). I personally prefer surgical masks anyway, and my experience in multiple medical facilities over the past two months (don’t ask) suggests that the vast majority of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers prefer them too.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Regardless of what the Supreme Court thinks, companies have a responsibility to keep their employees safe.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Absolutely agree – all employees should feel safe in their working environment. While not all will agree with the decision, Carhartt put the health and well-being of their workers and customers first.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Retailers have to answer to four audiences; their employees, their customers, the vendors and delivery folks that regularly visit the store, and the communities in which they operate, so, yes, they should require vaccination, effective masks, and appropriate testing. Now, that also means they ought to underwrite the costs of masks and tests. Those should be viewed as ongoing costs of doing business until the pandemic has passed. The Supreme Court ruled on the power of OSHA to mandate certain workplace requirements. That’s a different question from what constitutes good public health policy and practice, and nobody should confuse the former and the latter.

storewanderer
Guest
10 months 18 days ago
You try to wear a N95, KN95, or KF94 mask for 8 hours doing physical retail work like breaking down a pallet or behind a register talking steadily and see how that goes … hopefully you won’t pass out from breathing issues. Also the second you take that mask off to drink something or take a lunch the seal is broken and you need a new one. Not saying it is a bad idea, but I don’t think it is practical. Sorry. Easy to tell others what to do as you are working maskless from an office in a soft chair all day, but go work a shift in a store under the rule you suggest and see what you think then…. One grocer in my area at some point in the pandemic secured a limited number of those masks and had their deli and bakery employees wearing them due to the exposure with ready to eat food. Employees in the rest of the store wore the usual blue masks of paper that are more… Read more »
RandyDandy
Guest
10 months 18 days ago
With all due respect to others on this comment feed, it is rather cavalier to say certain workers must do this and that. It may seem that simple, but it really isn’t—especially when you’re working in a job that never had to contend with it being “us” and (versus) “them.” Furthermore, most customer service staff (like myself) came to their positions because they liked dealing directly with the public. (At least let’s hope so; what’s the sense of NOT liking people if they are who you have to deal with?) Also, theirs (make that ours, because I am part of this group) was supposed to be—and please let it be this way again soon—the FACE of the companies they work for. So, having to mask up has absolutely denied us a great part of that privilege for nearly two years now. Meanwhile, this is not the same “germy” situation as would be working in healthcare. Or deeply between food stuffs. Which has always had (or should have) some barriers separating employees from their goods (ya… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
The Supreme Court’s ruling only impacts OSHA’s ability to issue such a mandate, it doesn’t have any direct legal impact on what businesses can and can’t do to protect their employees and customers. Each business will have to make this decision. Frankly, I find Starbucks’s decision quite baffling given their prior stance. Feels like they’ve been given some faulty-logic legal advice on the matter. Time will tell if this change sticks. It’s interesting to see how different sides of the media have portrayed it. Conservative media portrays this in headlines saying Starbucks strikes down their mandate, while other outlets merely say they have paused the rollout of their mandate. Same story, totally different interpretations. Regarding masks — so far the data seems to indicate vaccines can’t protect you from getting omicron, they just make it so the symptoms you get are much milder. Wearing the right kind of mask has much more impact as a preventative measure, so Starbucks’s change here makes sense. The science is telling us if we all get vaccinated and wear… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

To be blunt, Starbucks’s position — if that’s what it should be called — makes no sense: the SCOTUS decision concerned the (Federal) government’s authority to mandate something, it said nothing about what employers should or shouldn’t do … so there’s nothing to “comply” with. So they get an “F.”

As for other retailers, and companies, they’ll have to do what they’ve been doing: comply with local regulations and evaluate things based on what their customers — and employees — think is best.

storewanderer
Guest
10 months 18 days ago

Starbucks’s position is simple. They implemented a policy to be compliant with OSHA. OSHA rule was overturned. Starbucks then opted to overturn its policy as well.

Pretty much same situation as any other over 100 employee US employer … the only difference is they publicly announced what their policy would be before the OSHA rule was overturned.

Many other employers announced a policy internally then canceled it in the exact same manner.

No reason to attack Starbucks.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

The reason was that they were hi-lighted; I’ll be happy to extend my failing grade to anyone else who offers up (what I feel to be a) disingenuous response … no credit for getting the “think twice, talk once” thing backward.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

While I agree that vaccinations and regular testing are important to ensure COVID safety, I believe that individuals should be able to choose whether or not to get vaccinated because vaccines may have a number of side effects on our bodies. Regular testing is a good option but employees shouldn’t be burdened with its cost.

Mask mandates have the potential to be extremely effective at reducing COVID transmission. Retailers should ensure that N95, KN95, or KF94 masks are used by both employees and customers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Regardless of what the Supreme Court thinks, companies have a responsibility to keep their employees safe."
"Turns out you can be double-vaxxed and boosted and still get the bug, so I think it’s more about the masks at this stage."
"Even as customers are not required to wear masks, I believe they appreciate the fact that employees are wearing them."

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