Requiring customers to mask up throughout the pandemic has led to confrontations between customers who oppose mask wearing and store staff. Mandating vaccines would be even more challenging for businesses and jeopardize worker safety, industry trade groups say.
“We want to stick with the message that strongly encourages everybody to get vaccinated, but don’t want to create a situation where employees basically have a risk of physical assault, because it happened last year,” said Larry Lynch, senior vice president of science and industry for the National Restaurant Association. “That’s our biggest fear.”
David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, doesn’t believe vaccine mandates for customers are the “right step” for retail chains, and they would be unable to enforce such mandates.
“Store employees are not trained to be security enforcement people,” he said. “What do you do if someone says they’re coming in and not going to show their vaccination status?”
No technology in place
There are other barriers to vaccine requirements for customers aside from safety concerns, too.
Most retail stores “don’t have any experience with requiring things like an ID to come into a store,” French said, and it would hurt the quality of their customer service to be scrutinizing shoppers’ vaccine status. There is no technology in place for retailers to easily check customers’ vaccine status nationwide, he said. And then there’s the question of what would happen if people forgot their vaccine cards at home or were accompanied by children who are not yet vaccinated.
“There are some real practical problems with requiring vaccination status to enter a retail store,” he said. “It’s something a lot of retailers are scratching their heads at.”
But for the most part, it’s easier for companies to set employment requirements for their own workforce than unfamiliar customers coming in every day, said Craig Rowley, senior client partner specializing in retail at executive search firm Korn Ferry.
Public attitude on vaccine mandates for customers is sharply divided, another consideration for businesses.
“There are varying opinions on who should be required to prove they have had the vaccine. Yes on proof of vaccination for those who fly, a toss-up for people attending large events, and a no for people going to restaurants,” said Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy.