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05/24/2021

Face Mask Rules Put Grocery Workers in the Middle

Grocery store workers are squarely in the middle of an ongoing national debate around mask-wearing rules as pandemic lockdown measures continue to ease.
masked grocery story worker

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new guidance saying individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19 didn’t need to wear a face mask indoors or outdoors except in certain circumstances, several retailers have dropped previously enforced mask mandates. However, most retailers weren’t about to start checking if customers had proof of vaccination. As of May 23, half of U.S. states have vaccinated at least half of their adult populations, the CDC reported. 

Walmart was among the first to drop its mask mandate, with many others, including Kroger, Albertsons and Target doing the same. For store workers, the changes have brought confusion and some conflicts, The Wall Street Journal reported. Many customers are embracing the new guidance and no longer wear masks when shopping. Some workers who have unvaccianted loved ones at home are worried they will come into contact with more unvaccinated people as a result.

Grocery retailers aren’t requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination before going maskless, but Kroger is requiring proof for its employees. The grocery chain is also offering $100 incentives to provide proof of vaccination. While retailers are making their own decisions regarding new mask policies, local and state regulations are still in effect. Plus, industry groups aren’t so sure retailers should be so quick to lift safety requirements.

“Robert Newell, president at the United Food Commercial Workers International Union’s New York chapter, said the union is encouraging supermarkets to keep mask requirements in place because there’s no easy way to tell whether someone is vaccinated,” WSJ reported. 

The change in policies has also created some awkwardness for employees, who may feel uncomfortable asking others about their vaccination status, even if they feel they are at higher risk.