Costco Shoppers Are Furious Over One Manager's COVID Mask Message

The Costco subreddit lit up today after an employee posted a picture of a notice purportedly issued by management of an undisclosed store. The note asked employees not to ask customers who were already in the store to put on masks, as "we" would ensure that everyone had a mask or a face shield at the door. The note explained that if the customer had a medical reason not to wear a mask, the people stationed at Costco's entrance would ask them to wear a face shield. "If they still don't want to wear anything, it is what it is," the note said. "We want to avoid altercations and make sure everybody is safe."

Most agreed with the note up this point. "It is unfair to ask grocery store employees to be responsible for public health," one wrote. "Workers have been assaulted many times throughout the pandemic for asking customers to wear masks." The consensus was that a warehouse worker shouldn't have to navigate the political minefield that masks have become.

The original poster agreed with this as well, but drew the line at what came next. In the note, it appears that this Costco is telling their employees to lie to members who complain about unmasked customers. "If masked members complain about unmasked members, we will let them know they are claiming a medical exemption," the note read. "If they say it's not true, we will tell them we are not allowed to ask due to HIPPA [sic] laws." The misspelled HIPPA refers to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, which prevents healthcare providers from disclosing your personal information without your consent (via CDC).

HIPAA has nothing to do with this

Many reactions to the note pointed out the irrelevance of HIPAA. "HIPPA only applies to medical personnel," one wrote. "Your employer has the right to ask and require vaccination as a condition of employment."

According to the CDC, the act stops the sharing of private medical information by certain parties, namely healthcare providers, entities that provide or pay for health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and business associates that are using easily identifiable healthcare data. HIPAA lacks the blanket protection that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides, which is why you cannot force people with purported service animals to provide documentation. That said, USA Today has reported that ADA does not cover face masks either, as that falls under "legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operations." So, attempts to waive a private entity's right to safeguard its patrons by instituting mask mandates is legally baseless.

Of course, the point is not that Costco is worried about following the letter of the law. It is that they do not want to fight customers of either persuasion. How well they manage that balancing act will have to be seen.