To Require Masks or Not?

Shawnee Love   •   August 27, 2020

With yesterday’s news, we received a few queries on whether other companies should follow Walmart’s lead and make masks mandatory.

The answer is not necessarily.  I say this, because nothing has changed since yesterday.

Masks and face coverings are still a helpful type of personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used when social distancing can’t be maintained (outside of medical environments).  However, beyond the mental boost someone might get by taking extra precautions, masks and face coverings are not adding value when:

– the virus isn’t present (e.g., within your own bubble, or in an area where COVID measures have resulted in little to no cases, i.e., single digits),

– those who are present can maintain the 6m distance due to effective policy and protocols such as scheduling, occupancy limits or being outdoors, signage, barriers (sneeze guards, cubicle walls, etc.), and wellness etiquette.

I suspect Walmart Canada’s decision to make masks mandatory isn’t because they suddenly learned something the rest of us don’t know.  Rather, it appears to be a smart and well marketed tactic which gets people talking about them and encourages consumers with mental or physical health vulnerabilities to get out and shop in store.  That’s smart business IMHO, but doesn’t mean it is a best health and safety practice to be followed by everyone else.

The facts that they sell masks, and they can now pack people in are added benefits for Walmart as I bet their sales have been hurting just as much as other retailers.

So if you have similar target customers as Walmart, following suit could be good for you. Create a community of mask wearing retailers where people with compromised health can go. But if that doesn’t apply to you, the best approach is still to evaluate the Covid related risk factors in your organization for employees and customers, and take the necessary steps to minimize or prevent risks. In doing so, if masks are part of the solution, then use and require them as appropriate.

If you ask me, “one size fits all” doesn’t fit anyone. Be wise, be intentional and of course, leverage reliable sources and tools provided by your provincial and federal health agencies, workers compensation boards, and your professional advisors.