Covid Complacency: Ensuring Retail Workers Stay Safe in 2021

Written by Austin Chegini

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By now, all of us understand what we need to do to guard against COVID-19. From distancing to hygiene, we have spent the last year dealing with the effects of this virus. 

With vaccines rolling out across the world, many people can finally breathe a sigh of relief. If expert estimates are correct, we can return to mostly normal schedules in the fall. 

At the same time, businesses are slowly reopening as restrictions ease in their cities. Capacity limits are increasing, mask policies are ending, and people are adapting to social life. 

But reopening comes with some risks

As the weather gets warmer and more people head outside, we will only see increased social interaction. While this is excellent news for businesses, forgetting what we’ve learned over the last year could be dangerous.


For nearly a year, we have stayed home and avoided loved ones. Daily tasks have become a chore, especially when it comes to shopping or getting some exercise. It is safe to say most of us have experienced “COVID fatigue” at some point.

As people become exhausted and complacent, they start to ignore safety precautions. Maybe they don’t wear a mask as they should, or perhaps they start meeting with people outside of their social circle. 

Once complacency sets in at your store, you risk your workers and guests becoming sick. Not only will your staff’s health be in jeopardy, but your business will suffer setbacks as well. 

If enough employees contract the virus and you become short-staffed, you will face business disruptions or have to hire new staff. By bringing on more team members, you will spend valuable time on interviews and increase your exposure risk.

Likewise, if your customers learn that employees or patrons became sick at your store, they will wisely avoid it. Just one confirmed case arising from your business could threaten your entire livelihood.

Over-confidence in vaccines

Around the world, people have celebrated the arrival and distribution of vaccines. But the relief many of us feel can be a little bit misleading. Vaccines will take a long time to reach critical mass, so we will need to take precautions for most of 2021. 

With all the misinformation and conflicting reports about the virus, some of your guests are bound to be confused. Those who received the vaccine are not immediately protected. They should still wear a mask and follow social distancing rules to protect themselves and others. 

As more people get the vaccine, be sure to hang signs in your store to remind them to follow safety procedures. 

Unenforced mask policies

Ordinances regarding face masks are typically set at the local level. They can vary wildly from city to city, creating some confusion. 

On top of this, many people do not wear their masks properly. Not covering the nose and mouth puts the wearer’s health at risk as well as that of others.

Unfortunately, too many retail workers are not comfortable addressing this issue. Failure to enforce proper mask usage puts everyone in your store at risk.

Checklist for staying safe

Follow these general tips to keep your workers productive and healthy over the next year. 

Require masks (even if local government does not)

Masks are the best method to prevent spreading the virus. 

Mandate that all workers and guests wear masks at your store. Even if your local government does not require masks, it is better to be safe than sorry. 

Be sure to enforce the mask policy fairly. Do not make exceptions for friends and family, and empower your staff so they can address customers who violate the policy. 

Worst of all, if your workers do not address poor mask usage, your customers might. That is the last thing you want since it ruins customer experience and can lead to physical altercations.

Monitor worker health

Upon arrival, have your staff use hand sanitizer before touching any equipment. Next, ensure they don the proper mask and wear it correctly. As annoying as it may be, address your workers any time their masks slip below their nose or months. 

Be lenient with sick days and never require someone to come in if they do not feel well. 

Time’s are tough right now for everyone, and every paycheck matters. Some employees may not want to take time off. However, you need to require all sick employees to stay home. If you can afford to compensate them for this time, please do. The investment in their health can prevent an outbreak and other disruptions at your business.

Encourage contactless and card payments

Minimizing contact is crucial for stopping the spread. Customers who pay with cash can possibly transfer the virus to staff members, and likewise for staff who return change to the customer. 

In an effort to reduce this risk, link your retail point of sale with the right payment processors. With the latest technology, you can request customers pay with credit card or contactless options. 

While credit cards still allow for some contact, a card changes hands much less frequently than cash. Also, most card transactions happen on a terminal that workers do not touch. However, there is still a chance that customers can pass the virus to one another via these keypads. 

For total safety, add contactless payments to your shop. Customers can simply tap their credit cards or use programs like Apple Pay to complete their transaction. There is zero contact and an impossibly low chance of passing the virus via this method.

Keep up with routine cleaning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state the Coronavirus can live on surfaces for days. If an infected staff member or customer touches a product and puts it back on the shelf, it can reinfect someone else later. The same goes for high contact areas like door handles, countertops, payment terminals, and so on. 

To prevent any possible spread, consider cleaning more frequently than usual. Cleaning these areas every hour might work well, but the ideal schedule will be based on your traffic. 

Use hand sanitizer to complement your cleaning schedule. Place sanitation stations in front of doors or other high contact areas to limit the spread as much as possible.

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