As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in a variety of states, GameStop announced today that it was joining CVS, Target, and other major retailers in requiring customers to wear a face mask. The updated mask policy is scheduled to take effect on July 27, but according to an internal GameStop memo distributed to employees that VICE Games verified with three different workers, GameStop employees are not allowed to enforce the mask requirement.
“Do NOT refuse service to a customer that refuses to wear a mask/face covering,” reads the memo. “Do not ask a customer to leave the store if they are not wearing a mask/face covering.”
When confronted with a customer not wearing a mask, the memo instructs employees to “calmly ask the customer what you can assist them with and complete their transaction as quickly as possible.”
The memo, titled “best practices for addressing customer not wearing a mask/face covering,” was distributed at the same time as the company’s public announcement.
In response to a request for comment by VICE Games, a company spokesperson said these policies were about "keeping our associates safe." Update: GameStop CEO George Sherman co-signed an op-ed in CNN today from a number of business executives calling for all state governors to require "patrons to wear a mask when visiting our stores."
This contradiction reflects an uncomfortable reality for companies during COVID-19. Big retailers like GameStop and their workers have become the front lines in the culture war about face masks, which experts agree are an effective way to stop the spread of the virus, but which some people refuse to wear. Across the country, we've seen incidents of customers berating service workers for asking them to wear masks, and in some cases getting into physical altercations.
According to the memo, employees are to instruct anyone without a mask about the company’s updated policy, which applies to both customers and workers. If the customer does not have a mask to put on, the employees are supposed to offer a complimentary mask and remind them of the different ways they can purchase from GameStop outside of physically being inside a store, such as curbside pick-up and the retailer’s website.
The three employees I spoke with expressed frustration at the contradictory nature of the new policy, as it opens up employees to potential exposure from uncooperative customers.
“We’re being told in store that we are requiring masks, but also being told we can’t enforce it,” said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid potential punishment for speaking out.
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“No one takes anything seriously,” said one former employee, who asked to remain anonymous so that it would not impact their future employment opportunities. “Basically, they'll require masks unless a customer doesn't want to wear one, in which case they won't care. They're doing it for a false sense of caring, as expected.”
This former employee left GameStop in March over the company’s criticized response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, in which GameStop fought to have the company deemed “essential” so that it could keep selling video games, while at the same time being unable to provide employees with proper equipment to keep themselves safe while selling games. The company later told employees to ignore law enforcement officials who might try to to shut down businesses that were still operating during the chaotic early days of the outbreak.
GameStop eventually shut down nationwide on March 21, before participating in the various re-opening strategies that have been taking place in various states across the country.