Walmart recently made headlines when they announced that customers would need to wear masks in their stores. While it wasn’t the first store to put mask requirements in place, it was an important step in reinforcing science over propaganda. And another example of a company taking steps to fill a leadership vacuum on this issue.
But then the news came out that while Walmart, Lowe’s, and many other stores will require masks, they won’t actually enforce that requirement. For customers that refuse to comply, employees aren’t supposed to prohibit their entry. They’ll still be allowed to shop like anyone else.
Which, at first impression, seems like total crap. There’s a rule. And if people don’t follow the rule, there should be a consequence.
After all, if you don’t enforce a rule, then you don’t have a rule. At best you have good intentions. At worst, a PR stunt.
But when I thought about it some more, I agree with their logic. In fact, I’d have done the same thing.
Walmart, and other stores, made the mask requirement as a means to keep people safe. That’s the principle behind the decision. So when considering whether to prohibit entry for people without masks, it should be viewed through this same framework: Will confronting and prohibiting entry help make employees and customers safer?
Now, it’s completely ridiculous that people still refuse to wear masks in public. And it’s even more ridiculous that some people are willing to become violent over it.
But just because it’s ridiculous doesn’t mean it’s not the reality that we live in. And that’s the reality that Walmart needs to manage.
Masks aren’t the goal. Safety is the goal. Masks are simply the means of achieving that goal. But asking employees to prohibit entry to people runs counter to the principle of keeping them safe.
In many ways it’s similar to shoplifting. It’s clearly not allowed. It’s in the public’s best interest to minimize it. Yet most stores don’t expect their employees to chase down and tackle potential shoplifters. The liability to safety is too high and they’re better off leaving that role to the police.
So what do you do?
Make it a requirement. Once it’s a requirement, the overwhelming majority will comply.
Remind people that it’s a requirement, offer them masks, and make it easy for them to do the right thing. The social pressure will bring in a large portion of the remainder.
What’s left are the group that’s trying to make some kind of deranged statement. They want to be confronted. They want to make a scene and get their five minutes of notoriety. Don’t give them that chance. Alert the police if it looks like there’ll be a problem and leave the physical confrontations to them.
A Minnesota Walmart handled this well when two customers recently tried to shop with Nazi masks in protest of a potential Biden Presidency. Somehow they associated Biden with socialism and then socialism with Nazism. Even though Biden is not a socialist and, even if he was, socialism is pretty much the polar opposite of Nazism. Walmart employees encouraged them to wear different masks, offering them disposable ones. When the couple became belligerent, they called the police.
I realize that Walmart management’s taken some heat for their decision to not fully enforce their mask policy. But whenever we’re making a decision, the best way to deal with the different variables is to frame it against the underlying principle. In this case, it’s to keep their employees and their customers safe. That should be their top priority. And given that, I think they’re doing the right thing.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I’m sure there are many who disagree. And I’ll acknowledge that there’s a contrasting argument to be made. Don’t hesitate to start a conversation on it.