This Is the Biggest Problem With Walmart's Mask Policy, Employees Say

Mask requirements for many retail outlets aren't working for this very specific reason.

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A number of retail chains have started requiring customers to wear masks recently, but it was Walmart's decision earlier this month that got the most attention. It's been about two weeks since the new mask policy went into effect at the world's largest retailer on July 20. However, if you walk into any of Walmart's locations—and many other stores like it—you're probably going to see a few mask-less faces. And that's because Walmart employees are seeing so much conflict in trying to enforce the mask policy, shoppers who refuse to cover up are being allowed in anyway.

A recent article in The New York Times took a look at the challenges retail staffers face with masks and found that the war over face coverings is being fought at the entryways of retail outlets across the nation. "Everyone is so tense," 18-year-old Christopher Vanderpool, a North Carolina Walmart "health ambassador" assigned to enforce masks, told The New York Times. "I would be scared to confront people."

Vanderpool said he's noticed more customers in the open-carry state arriving to Walmart armed with guns, "including Glocks and other handguns, sometimes tucked into their waistbands."

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The mask battle amid this global pandemic has two passionate combatants. On one side is many medical and public health experts who tout the benefits of universal mask-wearing, and those who follow their advice. On the other side is the portion of American citizens who consider mask mandates an infringement on their civil liberty and are refusing to wear them as a result.

The battle has escalated to the point that there have been a number of recent reports of violent acts as a result of retail stores' mask policies. Take, for example, the Walmart shopper in Florida who pulled a gun on a fellow customer during a face mask dispute, which was caught on video. Or the Walmart shopper in Louisiana who was arrested for backing his car up into a police officer after being asked to leave the store for not wearing a mask.

The priority for many retailers is maintaining the safety of employees and customers. Earlier this week, CNN reported on a newly surfaced Walmart training video that revealed how the retail giant is instructing employees to deal with customers who refuse to wear masks. Staffers are directed to allow any customer who refuses to wear a face covering into the store and then notify management, who "can determine the next steps." The video also instructs staffers "never to engage with a customer physically or try to block their entrance into the store."

people stand in line outside of a walmart in Massachusetts wearing masks
Kenneth Martin/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

According to The New York Times report, it's not just Walmart that's facing enforcement safety issues. Walgreens and Lowe's are also seeing similar responses from customers. During a July 30 interview with CBS This Morning, McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski cited employee safety as the reason behind their mask requirement before noting, "If someone is unwilling to wear a mask and comply with our rules, that might be where we might bring in law enforcement."

Earlier this month, the Retail Industry Leaders Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association, urging policymakers to help send a strong, uniform message about masks, CNBC reported. "Retailers are alarmed with the instances of hostility and violence front-line employees are experiencing by a vocal minority of customers who are under the misguided impression that wearing a mask is a violation of their civil liberties," reads the letter from the retail group—whose members include Walgreens, Lowe's, Target, Best Buy, and Home Depot, among others. "Wearing a mask is not about fear, and it certainly should not reflect one's politics. Wearing a mask is about respecting others and preventing the spread of a deadly disease." And for more on mandatory mask policies, check out You Can No Longer Shop at These Popular Stores Without a Face Mask.

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