NEW YORK, New York — Walmart Inc. has some advice for employees who have the unenviable task of reminding shoppers to wear masks: Stay calm, listen intently and show understanding. But if customers insist on walking in without one, staffers should just get out of the way.
That’s the message from a short training video for Walmart’s new “Health Ambassador” role. The two-minute guide, which was obtained by Bloomberg News, teaches employees how to deal with customers who are not wearing masks — an issue that has divided the nation as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.
The animated video explains to Health Ambassadors — who receive no additional pay for the role — that not all customers can wear a mask due to age, health conditions or religious reasons.
“If a customer tells you they can’t for one of these reasons, listen and tell them you understand,” says the video, which is dated July 13, just two days before Walmart decided to require that all customers wear masks regardless of local mandates. “And thank them for shopping at Walmart.”
Due to those exceptions, customers will still see some people in stores not wearing a face covering, a Walmart spokesman said Tuesday when asked about the training video. “We believe our requirement will result in many more people wearing masks in our stores and clubs than before and that’s ultimately what we are aiming for,” he said.
But not everyone has a valid exception. When a customer who won’t wear a mask or provide a reason for not donning one tries to enter a store — portrayed in the video as a man with narrowed eyebrows and hands angrily on his hips — Health Ambassadors should simply allow the maskless customer inside and alert a member of management to determine the next steps, which are not detailed.
“Never engage with a customer physically,” the video says. “Do not block their entrance or attempt to stop them. Never ask a customer to explain their health condition, religious reason or any other reason they give for not wearing a face mask.”
Workers at Walmart and other food retailers have said they’re reluctant to engage with maskless customers, fearful that such an encounter could turn confrontational or even violent, as it has already in recent weeks. Although top health experts recommend wearing masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus, the issue of whether to wear one has swelled into a culture war, especially since President Donald Trump hasn’t made mask wearing a habit himself. He has since tweeted a photo of himself in a mask, calling the act of wearing one patriotic.
On employee message boards, Walmart associates have been vocal about their concerns regarding the Health Ambassador role, which Walmart treats as a “secondary job code,” meaning it doesn’t entail any additional pay on top of the associate’s existing wage rate.
One thread on a popular board asked Health Ambassadors to share their experiences, and followed with this blessing: “GOD Be With You.”
Acknowledging the difficult conditions its 1.5 million U.S. workers face, Walmart said separately on Tuesday it would deliver a third installment of employee bonuses totaling $428 million next month, bringing the total it’s paid out this year to $1.1 billion. The world’s largest retailer also said it would close its stores on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since the late 1980s. Unlike other retailers who have stepped up hourly pay for periods during the pandemic, Walmart has instead relied on one-time cash bonuses.
“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up,” Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Officer John Furner said in a statement. “We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones.”