Retail and grocery store workers adapt to new mask rules


Some workers cheered online about the lifted mask warrants, but many others protested. Some people don’t trust clients to be honest about their immunization status.

NEW YORK – A sharp easing in mask policies has left workers in some retail and grocery stores in shock as they try to figure out what the new environment means for their own safety and relationships with customers .

Kroger, the country’s largest grocery chain, has become one of the latest to announce that starting Thursday, workers and customers can stop wearing masks in states where warrants are no longer in effect . Other companies that have adopted similar changes include Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s, Costco, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, and Target, following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.

Some workers took to social media to applaud, but many others protested. Some don’t trust customers – or colleagues – to be honest about their immunization status because most companies don’t require proof. Others fear being judged if they leave their own masks on, even though their reasons for doing so are varied.

William Stratford, 29, won’t be fully vaccinated until next month, but shoppers and colleagues at the home improvement store where he works have come without a mask before his store even relaxed mask guidelines this week .

He complained to management and eats lunch in his car to avoid people without masks in the break room. It receives the looks of buyers and colleagues.

“I know for a fact that people have a negative opinion of me,” said Stratford, who asked that the store he works in not be named for fear of reprisal. “It has become a divisive problem in the workplace.”

The CDC said last week that fully vaccinated people – those who have been past their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine for two weeks – can stop wearing masks outdoors and in most indoor environments. The guidelines still call on people who are not fully vaccinated to continue to wear masks indoors and for everyone to wear them in crowded indoor environments such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and wards. homeless shelters.

This has left retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals and other employers scrambling to decide if and how to adjust their own policies. Some companies, including Trader Joe’s and Macy’s, allow vaccinated customers to drop their masks, but employees do not. Meanwhile, some grocery chains like Safeway are leaving their mask requirements in place.

Some workers fear they have been left behind by the fallout from a confusing mess of policies. John Bartlett, responsible for meat at a Safeway in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Said he was personally relieved that, for now, his store still needs masks for everyone, but he is concerned that politics does not make treating anti-mask clients even more difficult. .

“We have customers who literally insult us,” Bartlett said, recalling an incident where a man stormed out of the store shouting obscenities after Bartlett begged him to wear a mask. “The country should only have one policy. It would make it easier because we wouldn’t be dealing with customers who are so rude and awful to us. “

The Biden administration had faced pressure to ease restrictions on Americans vaccinated, in part to show the benefits of getting vaccinated at a time when demand for vaccines was starting to level off. Companies are also trying to encourage their employees to get vaccinated with measures ranging from paying premiums to on-site vaccination campaigns.

It is not known whether the relaxed mask restrictions will motivate unvaccinated workers to get vaccinated now. Some may feel more at risk of contracting COVID-19, but others may believe they may have the same privileges as vaccinated workers because no one is checking.

Amazon is among the few companies asking employees to show proof they’ve been vaccinated before going without a mask, asking them to upload a photo of their vaccine card by mid-June. At Walmart, workers who do not wear masks must confirm that they are vaccinated by completing a daily questionnaire, although it does not require proof. Nonetheless, the company will have an overview of who is vaccinated, as workers must present documents to get a $ 75 bonus offered to those who get vaccinated.

Marc Perrone, president of the United International Food and Trade Union, said about 40% of workers who took part in a recent union survey said they had been vaccinated. He acknowledged that some of them never receive the photos, but said the CDC and companies should have waited a few months to give people more time before changing the guidelines for interior settings.

Workplace experts warn that a two-tiered mask policy risks sowing resentment and suspicion if not properly implemented.

Kristin White, a workplace safety attorney at the law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP in Cleveland, Ohio, believes employers should ask workers to show proof of vaccination and says many don’t realize they’re legally allowed to do it.

“The honor system carries more risk,” said White, who advised companies on masks during the pandemic.

Asking workers about why or not they wear masks raises privacy concerns.

“Some of these employees may wear a mask because they have a disability and cannot be vaccinated; someone might be wearing a vaccinated mask, but they feel more comfortable with a mask, ”White said.

She recommends that her clients have a written policy so that employees do not ask their peers why they wear a face mask. She also says workers should be trained and not talk to each other.

For Bill Easton, the concern is with customers. Easton has worked as a cashier at a Safeway in Aurora, Colorado for 27 years and he already feels helpless when customers defy his store’s mask policy. He fears they will no longer become emboldened now that mask policies are relaxed across the country, even if they remain in place in his store.

On the other hand, some of her friendliest, longtime clients tell her that they are fully vaccinated and give her a big hug. Easton, too, is vaccinated and while he appreciates the display of affection, it makes him nervous.

“You wonder, do they really have their COVID injection?” he said.

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