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Walmart won't enforce its rules on wearing masks because it fears staff could be attacked by shoppers angry at being challenged

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/26/2020 mjankowicz@businessinsider.com (Mia Jankowicz)
a woman standing in front of a building: Walmart shoppers in masks. AP © AP Walmart shoppers in masks. AP
  • People who refuse to wear a mask will still be served at Walmart — and many other stores — despite new mask rules, according to a CNN report.
  • Walmart began requiring face coverings to be worn in all its stores on July 20, with coronavirus cases spiking in many parts of the US.
  • To avoid a "physical confrontation," however, staff members have been instructed to still serve people who refuse to wear one, the Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told Business Insider.
  • Home Depot, Lowe's, CVS, and Walgreens will also serve people refusing to wear them, according to CNN.
  • Mask acceptance is widespread in the US, but there have been several incidents of violence in stores and toward staff members from customers who object to mask rules.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Shoppers who refuse to wear a face mask to visit Walmart will still be served as the company seeks to protect its staff members from violence, according to a CNN report.

Walmart had announced that as of July 20, face coverings would be compulsory for all but those whose medical conditions prevent it, as Business Insider's Hayley Peterson reported. At least 27 other major US retailers have recently required the same thing.

A training video seen by CNN, however, tells employees tasked with reminding customers about face coverings to let people who refuse to wear a mask to "continue to shop."

Home Depot, Lowe's, CVS, and Walgreens have also said they'll serve customers without masks, CNN reported.

"We know there may be situations that may not make it possible for everyone to wear a face covering," the Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told Business Insider in a statement. In those situations, she said, "we will allow them to shop in our stores and clubs."

"Our goal is to keep associates from a physical confrontation situation, and our ambassadors will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper," she added.

A 'public-relations stunt,' in one critic's view

Walmart first announced its mask rule with a blog post saying it trained special "health ambassadors" whose job is to stand at the store entrance and "remind those without a mask of our new requirements."

The company said those workers would seek solutions when people refused and recognized that some could not wear face coverings on health grounds.

But as CNN reported, the health ambassadors are told in a training video not to impede customers who refuse. Instead, they inform a manager, "so they can determine the next steps."

The company does not rule out involving law enforcement. A Walmart representative told CNN: "While we do try to find solutions for customers who are not wearing face coverings, from time to time, we do need to call police for assistance in those areas."

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, criticized the lack of firmer enforcement. He told CNN that if companies "are not requiring customers to wear a mask within their store, then they never had a requirement." He continued: "All they had was a public-relations stunt."

Walmart did not offer Business Insider a comment on the criticism and did not respond to inquiries about asking its security to enforce the rule.

Masks are increasingly accepted — but it's still tough for retail workers

a person standing in front of a store: A Walmart employee in an image provided by the company. Walmart © Walmart A Walmart employee in an image provided by the company. Walmart

A Gallup poll released on July 6 found widespread support for mask-wearing in the US, with 85% of people saying they had worn one. Only 11% say they had not considered it.

Garcia, the Walmart spokeswoman, said "virtually everyone either brings a mask or readily complies with the requirement."

Retail workers, however, have borne the brunt of numerous violent outbursts from some customers who refuse.

Viral videos have shown shoppers having outbursts over the issue. In early July, one woman was filmed destroying a mask display in an Arizona Target, while another customer in an Oregon Costco sat on the floor and refused to leave in an anti-mask protest.

The issue has led to injuries — in late June, a 19-year-old McDonald's worker in California was physically attacked and racially abused by a customer who had been asked to put on a mask, as Business Insider's Kate Taylor reported.

CBS Los Angeles reported that the employee confronted the man July 15 at a Ralphs grocery store in Los Angeles and told the man he had to wear a face-covering or leave the establishment, a guideline required by Los Angeles County.

According to the report, witnesses said the man rammed the employee with a shopping cart, prompting another employee to spray the man with pepper spray.

In its blog post, Walmart said about 65% of its 5,000 stores were in areas with a statewide mask mandate. But the Retail Industry Leaders Association, of which Walmart is a member, wrote to governors on July 6 to ask for it to be imposed consistently across 50 states, CNN reported.

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