How to remain employed and still deal with unmasked customers
July 20, 2020 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I work essential retail which will be "requiring" customers to wear masks. But we will not be allowed to stop un-masked customers from entering the store. So, assume I will continue to be faced with unmasked customers.

What are options for me to use so that I don't get fired, but don't have to serve these customers?

The only option I can think of is offering to find another employee to help them. This is not optimal because it just puts a different employee at risk, plus, may get me fired. You can assume that management will not have my back.

And, these are the customers who decline when I offer them a nice new mask for their personal use.

I am open to hearing any and all solutions, suggestions, options, if there are any.
posted by mightshould to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What's the current local mask mandate? Are there enough employees to collectively exert pressure on management?
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:51 PM on July 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe you could try an assertive tactic when trying to give out the masks? Instead of "offering" the offending customers a mask from a table by the door (or some such), can you say "Hi! Just so you know, masks are required; here you go!" and hand them a mask? I would suspect that you would get at least some people to (begrudgingly) put it on this way.

The idea is that it's harder to refuse to follow up on a request when a person has handed you something (a lesson exploited by street hawkers everywhere.) You do have to come into contact with an unmasked person to do this, though, so it's not optimal.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:54 PM on July 20, 2020 [19 favorites]

Can you put on a face shield when you're helping them, in addition to your mask? (Not ideal, but better than not having a face shield).
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:00 PM on July 20, 2020 [12 favorites]

So, you're not allowed to stop un-masked customers from entering the store, but what kind of service are you in fact expected to provide to customers, whether they're masked or not? And can you half-ass it/ignore the customer/generally provide shitty service to the customer and get away with it?

If most of your contact with customers is in checking them out at a register, I'd ask your employer to provide plastic shields at the register (this doesn't have to be fancy or expensive - I noticed at Michael's they were just using big frames with only the plastic still in the frame, and those very same frames were on sale for like $15).

I agree that getting a coworker to help is a bad idea even just practically speaking because if your coworker gets sick you're way more likely to get it from them than from a customer.
posted by mskyle at 1:10 PM on July 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: With children it helps to use "when/once") statements, and since these unmasked crusaders are acting like children then maybe it would help to use the same tactic. When an unmasked person approaches, distance yourself if you can and then say "Masks are required. I will be happy to help you once you put a mask on." If they balk, repeat the same phrase until they either put a mask on or give up and go away.
posted by mezzanayne at 1:11 PM on July 20, 2020 [26 favorites]

Can you stay 6 feet apart?
posted by warriorqueen at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

At the swanky grocery store I live near, I have seen employees traveling around with carts full of stock far more during peak hours than ever before. They then place themselves on the side of the cart farthest from an unmasked person.

The store managers seem to all be in solidarity with the rest of the workers because I've seen them show up with a second cart to form blockades and hand out paper masks willy-nilly and escort unmasked customers out of the produce department and such. It's a pretty great store and I'm proud of them. I don't know your working relationship with management but maybe you can find someone who will work with you on this, even if other non-covid issues have previously been ignored.
posted by Mizu at 2:10 PM on July 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

In my city a majority of the business have signs on the doors which basically state the Governor has mandated everyone inside needs to wear a mask unless you have a medical excuse, but we can’t ask you if you have a medical excuse, so if you are not wearing a mask we will assume you have a medical excuse and all will be good. Winky face.

There was a recent release from the state Fire Marshall’s office that business will be informed this policy is not valid and businesses violating the mandate with these policies will be shut down. I am not sure why this falls under the fire marshall and not health department, but assume it is because they have a bigger budget and more inspectors, and also suspect the health department will be doing their part as well.

For me, it is kind of a kick in the teeth when you patronize a local business to help them out and they pull this kind of self defeating craziness. There are very few cases of people that can not wear masks for legitimate medical reasons. If customers are not wearing a mask against state, city or store policy, perhaps your state health or fire Marshall’s office can provide some guidance.

Otherwise, masks really only limit the vector spread of respiratory particles. Keeping your distance should be fine for real time protection. The current mask mandates do not do much to limit the spread on common surfaces you may touch as customers are also likely touching them with potentially contaminated hands, so regular cleaning of these surfaces with disinfecting sprays and regular hand washing and sanitizer should be the same, masks or not.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 2:18 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

FWIW the medical experts my company works with advised us that the risk of transmission from guests to staff is actually quite low, the risk is really transmission from staff to staff. (Not that this excuses not enforcing the mandate)
posted by mikek at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2020

Best answer: To not get fired, ask your manager for clarification on exactly what to do. Then they won't fire you. Ask them if you can say, "please wear a mask, people working here and shopping here are at risk for many illnesses".
posted by bbqturtle at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2020 [8 favorites]

At my store, management not prevent unmasked customers from coming in, but they have to sit in a little waiting area and have product brought to them - they may not move freely around the store. So far this has happened exactly once in the 4 weeks we've been reopened.
posted by coppermoss at 2:50 PM on July 20, 2020 [12 favorites]

Ask management to provide employees with face shields.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

If your employer is on the side of "let people shop without wearing masks" then there's not much you can do without risk of being fired. I suggest offering very slow and very physically distant service. Because your employer is saying your health is not important to them. So also look for another job.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:37 PM on July 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If you ask your manager for instructions or guidelines for how to handle this, make sure you have a witness with you. Memorialize it immediately afterwards in an email. Ideally, send it to the manager, "This morning I asked ... You told me that we should ..." You can make it friendly-ish like "I just want to make sure I got everything..." But you'll want to make very clear that retaliatory firing will be more difficult.
posted by Gotanda at 3:58 PM on July 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I hope this isn't too tangential, but OSHA has posted retail guidance and FAQs on employer responsibilities that might be helpful as you navigate this situation with your supervisors/HR/etc.
posted by Schielisque at 5:07 PM on July 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

You are always at risk of getting fired. You may get fired if you get sick. There is nothing you can do to ensure you don't get fired.

To exert pressure to keep yourself and your coworkers safe, you MUST organize with your coworkers. If you all decline to help unmasked customers, you are all in a much stronger position than if only you decline.
posted by fritley at 5:16 PM on July 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

Ask your company to put up plexi shields. They are far from ideal, esp. for people who don't hear well, so have pen and paper handy.

Ask for a standing fan behind you; keep it on at least medium. I have no citations, but surely a fan would help blow airborne virus away from you.

Medical grade(not N95) masks have an inner electrostatic layer, work better than homemade; use those.
posted by theora55 at 4:59 AM on July 21, 2020

Response by poster: My role is out on the sales floor helping customers, so I am highlighting the suggestions that may work for my particular situation of needing to provide 'excellent customer service' while maintaining some measure of personal safety.

I live in a very 'red' area, so there is less compliance with the State issued mandate. Corporate will do as little as possible to comply because the customer dollars are more important than workers. At least there are shields up for cashiers.
posted by mightshould at 5:30 AM on July 21, 2020

I just read through this illustrative Twitter thread by someone in your position. Interesting observations about who is objecting to mask policies and how to handle them.

My takeaway here is that it helps to have a very clear store-level policy to cite, information about how customers can be served if they cannot (or more likely choose not) to wear a mask, strategies for how to present the new policy to customers (not everyone is aware, for example), and the backing of your supervisors to enforce the policy consistently. If you don't have that last one, the reality is that it's unlikely you'll be able to do much here.

Good luck - retail is brutal in the best of times, so I can only imagine what it's like when you now have a population looking to make a scene about a new issue.
posted by owls at 12:16 PM on July 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is your manager's problem not yours.

Strong agree that you should clarify with manager with witness and try to force them to write down the policy. "Hi Boss, thanks for the training today on mask use for customers. Just so I make sure I get this right, can you please share the policy on how we handle customers and masking? Thank you!"

Then when you have a shitty customer interaction, immediately make this your manager's problem. "Thanks Customer! Let me go get my manager to help clarify our policy!" and then, "Hi Manager, I wanted to make sure I get this right, can you please give a hand to the customer over there [who doesn't have a mask on]?"

As you note, the corporate overlords don't give a crap and so they are passing the responsibility to individual managers. Then individual managers will be very tempted to pass the buck to you, the worker. As much as possible, push this back up the line where it belongs. Big picture, you and your coworkers would have to band together to fight this.
posted by latkes at 4:49 PM on July 21, 2020

Best answer: You might try taking the approach that a hostage negotiator would. I've used this in interactions with folks who refuse to mask up (it's Montana, there's a lot of them) with good results.
posted by BReed at 11:24 AM on July 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

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