The Moneyist: ‘Your boss is playing God’: My grocery store banned face masks for staff. I don’t want to contract coronavirus. How can I stay safe?

The Moneyist: ‘Your boss is playing God’: My grocery store banned face masks for staff. I don’t want to contract coronavirus. How can I stay safe?

3 Apr    Finance News

Dear Moneyist,

I am in my 60s and I work for a well-known supermarket chain in North Carolina. My job requires me to be in the aisles at all time, answering customers’ questions and stocking shelves.

I decided to wear a face mask because I am unable to remain six feet away from other customers, as per the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My manager told me to take it off. He said the company was following the CDC guidelines, which stated that masks do not have any affect in protecting us against the coronavirus. He will not allow me to wear it.

He also told me that, if I felt uncomfortable working, I could go home. Of course, he would not pay me if I went home, so that’s easy for him to say. He said it was not his decision, and said he was just following the company’s orders. However, he did say that if a doctor provided me with a note, stating that I needed to wear a mask, I would be allowed to wear the mask while I was working.

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Since when do people in authority have the right to keep you from using any means possible of protecting yourself so that you feel comfortable in the workplace? It’s like all they care about is making money. Its already hectic enough with all the extra pressure from the people coming in, and being outraged at times because we are out of basic necessities like hand sanitizer and toilet roll.

When he told me to take it off, it felt like he was pouring salt into a wound. During times like these, don’t you think it would be nice for people to show some appreciation? Wearing the mask makes me feel safer and helps to guard me against coronavirus. It does not interfere with my ability to do my job I wonder if other companies in the retail industry are treating their employees in this fashion, too?

Thank you for your time, and for listening. My God bless the world during these trying times.

Just trying to stay safe

Dear Trying,

Amen to that.

I agree that faith rather than fear is important at a time like this. So much is out of our control. There is so much we do not know about COVID-19. We will have to act as a team, stay home if possible, and practice social distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Your boss is not God, but given the risks to your health and peace of mind as front line workers, he is acting as if he is.

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New York Mayor De Blasio said on Thursday that the public should wear masks, but not N95 surgical medical-grade masks: “You can create a face covering with anything you have at home right now, a piece of cloth. You can create your own version and put on your own decoration. That’s what we want you to do. Something homemade, not something professional.” Show your boss that.

Previous studies have concluded that face masks have helped reduce contagion by reducing droplets being sprayed into the air during flu season; another Japanese-based study says this works when paired with vaccination, not an option in this case. It may be that they work in a small amount of cases and/or just wearing them helps to promote healthy behaviors.

This study says N95 medical-grade masks do help filter viruses that are larger than 0.1 micrometers (One micrometer, um, is one millionth of a meter.) The coronavirus is 0.125 um. “These products can help block large droplets expelled by the wearer, but also have been shown to have efficacy at filtering smaller particles and are designed to fit tightly to the face,” it said.

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However, hospitals have reported a shortage of masks. I personally believe they should be used by medical staff who are up close and personal with patients who have COVID-19. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that there are only 30 million N95 masks in the national stockpile, and “as many as 300 million masks are needed in the U.S. for health-care workers.”

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that the White House Coronavirus Task Force is giving “serious consideration” to broadening the existing guidance on face masks, but he said first priority must be given to health-care workers who are currently experiencing a shortage of masks. President Trump said the same thing this week.

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Currently, the Centers for Disease for Control and Prevention does not recommend that the public wear masks. “The idea of getting a much more broad, community-wide use of masks outside of the health-care setting is under very active discussion at the task force,” Fauci, one of the country’s top infectious disease experts, told CNN T, +2.53%. “The CDC group is looking at that very carefully.”

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As to your question, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that such decisions “must be based upon a hazard analysis of the workers’ specific work environments and the different protective properties of each type of personal protective equipment.” They are not designed or certified “to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants,” it adds.

But you’re right. It’s a trying time. People are stressed out and scared. The U.S., like many countries, is waiting for a surge of hospitalizations, and there are real fears that the health-care system will not have the capacity — or even the beds — to deal with this escalating public-health crisis. This mask is something you can control, and now you are being told not to wear it.

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There are other things you cando that are within your control: Wear latex gloves and, if possible, maintain a six-feet-or-more distance from coworkers and customers. Talk to your coworkers about approaching your manager (or the company HQ) to stagger the number of customers in the store at any one time. I have seen everyone from Duane Reade WBA, -6.30%  to Trader Joe’s do this.

I don’t blame you for being frustrated. I would feel the same way. You should be allowed to make decisions for you own well being. It would also be nice for your manager to show appreciation for the customer-facing staff on the floor. That includes you. A “thank you” and an acknowledgment of how you are arguably putting yourselves at increased risk of catching COVID-19 would be a start.

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So let me do what he did not do. Thank you for being there so people can get their groceries and stay home for as long as possible to help prevent catching or spreading this disease. Thank you for doing a job that requires more risks than many. It is appreciated. Hospital and ambulance workers are on the front lines of this crisis and, although this may not help you, they do have it worse.

Continue to take all the necessary precautions, and stay healthy. We are all in this together. Millions of workers are likely to lose their jobs in the coming months, particularly in the hospitality and airline industries. This pandemic will have ramifications that will be written about in history and economic books. People like you who turn up for work every day are helping to make America a safer place.

For that, thank you.

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You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at

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