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caption: Customers outside the Home Depot in Tukwila on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.
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Customers outside the Home Depot in Tukwila on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Hiruko

Home Depot reverses mask policy; will now have enforcement ‘captains’ in stores

On Friday, Home Depot reversed its policy on requiring customers to wear masks in its stores.

Now, the box store chain will require customers nationwide to wear masks inside its stores starting on July 22.

Home Depot will have employees dedicated to customer compliance with that policy.

This announcement comes two days after a KUOW story revealed that Home Depot's policy was to not enforce mask wearing, despite a state ordinance requiring otherwise.

"Social distancing captains" at Home Depot stores will ask customers without a face covering to wear one, said Margaret Smith, spokesperson for Home Depot. Those without masks will be provided one.

The KUOW report focused on a single Home Depot in Tukwila, south of Seattle. This store was not enforcing a mask mandate that called on businesses to refuse service to customers without a face covering. The law went into effect on July 7 as an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as cases locally are rising.

READ: Home Depot isn't following Washington state's mask mandate. Says it's risky for staff

It wasn't the only store, however. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries received about 50 complaints about Home Depot locations around the state within the last week, according to Tim Church, spokesperson for Labor and Industries.

Church said one complaint in particular reported that about 20 customers inside one Home Depot location were without a face covering. The department of Labor and Industries spoke with Home Depot leadership on Thursday, Church said.

“We made it perfectly clear that we expect them to protect the health and safety of workers,” Church said. “A big part of that is making sure customers are wearing masks when they come into the store.”

Church said that Home Depot appeared to be “committed to being cooperative” with the Washington state mask mandate from this point forward.

Home Depot will now take a different approach to Washington state customers who refuse to mask up while inside. Smith said that while it's too dangerous to physically deny a customer entry, if a customer becomes combative or habitually refuses to comply and wear a mask, the stores will take further action, even trespassing them from entering Home Depot stores.

KUOW learned of Home Depot's earlier policy not to require masks from a cashier who works at the Home Depot in Tukwila. He said he was told by management not to turn away service to any customers, and that employees were to only offer masks, not require them.

He showed KUOW an email that management sent him.

“We, as a company, are putting out the signs to mandate masks, but are only able to enforce with our associates," the email said. "We are not to turn customers away or refuse service. We can offer them a mask if we see a customer without a mask, but again, we are not to address the mandate any further.”

Smith, the Home Depot spokesperson, confirmed this earlier policy of not requiring masks in an email to KUOW.

"Where they’re required by local mandate, we’re asking customers to wear masks in our stores through signage and announcements over our PA system," Smith said. "We have not required stores to police local mandates, because it can be dangerous to put our associates in that position."

Social media has been plastered with videos of customers reacting aggressively when confronted by employees for not wearing a mask at other businesses in the U.S. A man at a Kansas barbecue restaurant flashed a gun at an employee after he was asked to wear a mask inside last week.

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