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Should restaurants and other service-based businesses, such as fast food and coffee shops, make mask-wearing compulsory? Even though it’s impossible to eat at a restaurant while wearing a mask, the question of whether to enforce masks in service industries remains controversial. Restaurants do have to provide face protection for employees, such as waiters, cooks, and cleaners. Restaurant owners must make critical decisions in regards to how they spend money on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and how they distribute masks to employees.

  • Each state has its own regulation in regard to personal equipment required in service industries for customers and workers. Most states agree that restaurants must have supplies, such as face masks, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizers, while they’re operating.

However, in states with many infection cases, such as California and New York, these items are in short supply and they’re very costly – especially for business owners who must then replenish their stock every few days. With most restaurants struggling to pay rent and make a profit in the takeout/delivery market, the cost of PPE can be too much to bear. While it’s possible to order masks from the internet, pharmacies tend to run out quickly, and even restaurants that can afford them find them in short supply.

The Price Of PPE For Restaurant Owners

The price of PPE has stabilized, and restaurant owners currently have a range of options in order to protect employees and customers. For instance, a pack of 50 disposable surgical masks can now be purchased for $15-20 on average, while these masks would cost as much as a few dollars each during the height of the pandemic.

The most popular option for restaurant employees was the respirator N95 mask, which once sold for as much as $200/piece, even though it cost $10 pre-pandemic. Restaurant owners can now choose between disposable surgical masks that cost $15/pack, but are only for single-use, or they can invest in respirator masks, such as DittoMask, that provide infinite use and respiratory filtering.

Depending on the number of cases, many states and municipalities are now lifting their stay at home orders and restrictions. In the restaurant business, certain municipalities are allowing dine-in services instead of delivery services exclusively (as was the case until recently). Estimates are that the price for protective equipment will remain the same in future months, and restaurants will pay billions for protective equipment over the course of the year.

Restaurant Workers Making A Comeback

Millions of laid-off workers will return to the workforce shortly, and business owners must provide them with adequate protection. In the future, we’ll find out whether the expenses for personal protection will grow while industry revenue keeps up with the pace.

If dining services don’t re-open in most  states soon, it is expected that almost as many as 50% of restaurants will have to close. Restaurants are going to need help from the government to purchase PPE for workers, which can cost thousands of dollars each month. Restaurants will also have to think about how long they’ll need to use masks – it’s likely that workers will have to wear masks until the end of 2020 at the earliest, despite restrictions being lifted.

This can increase the total cost as owners will have to replenish their PPE stock weekly or monthly. The only workaround in this situation is to purchase more expensive respirator masks that can be reused by employees. Most restaurants, that currently only offer takeout, are losing money and many of them will fail if they’re only allowed to do delivery.

Restaurant owners bear the cost of protective equipment, which mirrors the cost of delivery services. Popular apps, such as Uber Eats, that deliver food for restaurant owners, charge between 10-30% of the total order, which further cuts into their profit margins.

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Businesses all over the US are opening up as states start lifting restrictions and Americans start venturing back in public places. This leaves many questions in regards to face coverings unclear. For one, should customers be required to wear masks at your establishment? This post will analyze how numerous chains across the US are regulating face masks, and whether business owners are legally obliged to require customers wear masks.

The largest businesses, such as Walmart and Costco, have mandated face masks and temperature-measurements for workers, but they only recommended customers wear them. These chains also encouraged social distancing at their stores in order to slow the spread of the virus. However, Costco recently went on to introduce compulsory face masks for all customers. 

  • All shoppers entering Costco will have to wear a face mask or be denied service. Many videos are going viral of customers refused service and/or shoppers shaming other shoppers for not wearing face masks.

The CEO of Costco said “We are aware our shoppers might find the new face mask requirement to be inconvenient or object to it, but with the added circumstances we prefer safety over inconvenience. This is not a matter of personal choice, because the mask doesn’t only protect the wearer but it protects other people as well”. Costco is the largest supermarket chain to require compulsory face masks and the company defends its decision by citing safety for workers and other people over personal comfort.

Can You Refuse Service Legally?

What happens if the customers refuse to wear masks? Can they be denied service at your business? Doesn’t it infringe on our rights as American citizens to be denied service due to not wearing a mask? Can customers sue your business for refusing them service? The answer: Yes, as a business owner, you’re legally entitled to deny service to customers for not wearing a mask.

The legal premise is that, the business is essentially your private property and, you dictate the rules on your property. All private companies reserve the right to turn away customers as they see fit, and this gives permission to large chains such as Costco to mandate face masks and refuse service to all non-compliant customers. In essence, you can ban all customers without face masks from entering your business establishment and not be held legally liable.

From a legal perspective, you must not  discriminate against customers. Lawyers recommend enforcing your guidelines in a non-discriminatory manner because, even though you retain the right to allow or refuse customers, you should always judge customers on an individual basis. For instance, you may have customers who adhere to the Islamic or Sikh faiths, who refuse to wear masks as face mask can’t fit around their beard. This means that although they would want to wear the mask, they can’t, as it infringes on their religious rights.

There is a lot of misunderstanding as to what rights we have here. The constitution will not protect shoppers if they’re refused service at a supermarket. Supermarkets have historically implemented a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” standard, which ban people without adequate clothing from shopping at their stores. Similar principles apply for face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Supermarkets and retailers have taken other measures to prevent the spread of the virus in their establishment. Many of them installed Plexiglas dividers at the cash registers in order to physically separate the cashiers and the customers. They also added social distancing markers to keep a 6-foot distance between customers. Supermarkets regularly measure worker’s temperatures before allowing them to go to work. Walmart has even gone as far as allowing only 20 customers per 100 sq ft. which meant they were usually operating at 20% capacity.

How Smaller Chains Are Handling The Crisis

Smaller chain stores around the country have varying rules when it comes to face mask regulations. In some cases, customers have been refused even from stores that don’t require face masks. For instance, Nugget Market, a chain of 15 stores located in California, refuses service to all customers who attempt to enter without a face mask.

A Tennessee based chain offers a creative solution where they sell face masks at the entry for customers who don’t have face masks – or they refuse service. Smart & Final, a California-based chain with over 300 stores, offers customers the ability to purchase a face mask at their stores directly before entering the premises.

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, worker protection is one of the essential ways to protect public health. Business owners must develop protocols that employees and customers can follow to protect themselves from the virus. Protection is essential for all essential workers – from healthcare workers to emergency responders, supermarket/grocery workers, delivery workers, pharmaceutical workers, factory workers, sanitation workers, and others.

The business owner is responsible for providing protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves, and sanitation equipment. This begs the question: Can your workers report you if you lack sanitary equipment for the crisis? What happens if you fail to supply protective equipment on time?

This post will analyze worker laws and regulations imposed by agencies such as OSHA. First off, there are different requirements for different industries. Certain “high risk” industries, where employees are exposed to a higher risk of infection, require extra protection. This includes respirator masks such as the N95 or DittoMask. All healthcare workers and emergency responders are encouraged to wear those masks. Other “high-risk” professions include retail/service, grocery store workers, home care workers, law enforcement workers, and meat processing workers.

How To Protect Your Employees

Business owners are encouraged to instruct your employees on social distancing or working remotely for the duration of the pandemic. There are also measures to prevent infections in the workplace. The most common measure is to purchase face masks in bulk and distribute them to employees daily. It’s also recommended to purchase disposable gloves.

There is the option to purchase “cheap” surgical masks which last for the duration of the day and cost $0.5-1/mask, or more expensive reusable respirator masks and provide higher filtration at an additional cost.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Covid-19  spreads through  droplets that people release by coughing or sneezing. Evidence exists that speaking releases thousands of small droplets which are invisible to the naked eye and can also be infectious. Instruct your employees to wear masks and stop touching their faces or mask while they’re wearing them.

Can Workers Report You For Not Proving Masks?

The answer: Yes. Workers can report you, but this doesn’t mean that any agencies are going to enforce rules or punish you. Whether you choose to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for your employees or not is entirely up to you. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) for worker protection has not issued any practices or policies that force employers to provide protective equipment. It is entirely on a voluntary basis.

Moreover, OHSA is not carrying out any inspections or addressing personal pleas when workers report their employers for not enforcing rules in the workplace. Nonetheless, it’s still a smart choice to invest in basic protection for your employees in order to minimize the impact of the virus in your business.

Guidelines released by OHSA and the CDC, in regards to worker protection, only serve as advisory guides and do not include any sections which specifically mention fines for not supplying workers with PPE. Use these guidelines for advisory purposes, and the business owners should determine whether they want to follow the guidelines or ignore them.

Due to the fact there is a lack of enforcement; business owners will not be held liable for failing to supply their workers with adequate protection. It is up to business owners to determine whether their employees should wear masks or whether they can be exempt from wearing a mask.

Conclusion

As a business owner, you will be safe from legal prosecution in the event you fail to supply workers with PPE. Business owners are not held liable even if an employee ends up reporting them to OSHA and CDC. They have complete freedom to dictate their own Covid-19 policies and it’s up to them to make mask-wearing compulsory or voluntary at their business establishment.

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The COVID-19 epidemic will likely continue until the end of the year despite restrictions being lifted in many states. Most businesses currently require essential workers to wear protection, and even if they refuse to service customers who don’t wear a mask and try to enter the premise of the business. What are the measures an employer must take in order to guarantee the safety of their employees; and what happens if an employee refuses to wear a mask due to a medical condition or a religious reason? This post will focus on how to keep your workers safe and instruct them to wear masks.

Legally, business owners are permitted to decide whether they should mandate the use of face masks in the workplace, or allow their employees to choose voluntarily. There won’t be any legal repercussions if an employer chooses to fire an employee for refusing to wear a mask at work – unless the employee has a reason, such as religion, which requires them to wear a beard that makes wearing masks a challenge, and they have grounds for discrimination. 

  • In certain business spheres, wearing a face mask is not even a recommended practice. For instance, construction businesses that operate outdoors, where employees are more than 6 feet apart, don’t require face masks. 

High-Risk Employees

OSHA is a regulatory agency that recommends worker protection for employees. Under their newest protection standard (the 29 CFR), all employers/business owners must provide protective equipment, such as face masks and respirators, to employees when the equipment is necessary for their health and the customer’s health.

The newest OSHA regulations mandate that all employees in high-risk categories must get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including respirator masks. The most “dangerous” industries according to OHSA are healthcare, laboratory workers (who perform sample-taking on potential COVID-19 patients), and death care workers. Employees in the healthcare industry, constantly exposed to infected Covid-19 patients or suspected patients, carry the highest risk of contracting the infection.

Medium-Risk Employees

OHSA has another category called the “medium risk” category which relates to other professions that engage with the public at large. While medium-risk employees are not as likely to be infected as high-risk medical workers, they should still receive adequate protection in order to stay safe at work. In this category, OHSA advised all business owners to supply PPE, such as face masks, to their workers and measure temperatures before allowing them to go to work.

The medium-risk category envelops all workers who must interact with customers less than 6 feet away, such as grocery/supermarket workers, retail workers, food workers, and more. OHSA has advised surgical face masks at a minimum, and respirator masks as the optimal solution.

Low-Risk Employees

In the low-risk category, such as businesses that don’t require interaction with the public, OHSA has advised no additional PPE measures. The CDC shifted their opinion from not recommending face masks in public to recommending face masks to the general public (especially in high-risk cities), and the American Society Of Safety Professionals (ASSP) advised wearing respirator masks for all high-risk workers, such as healthcare staff, emergency responders, law enforcement officers, and more.

CDC claims that even respirator masks may not be effective in the prevention of the spread, unless applied and worn correctly. The World Health Organization warned against relying on face masks as the sole security measures and advised employers to take further action, such as send non-essential workers home, for the duration of the crisis.

Conclusion

It is up to the employers and business owners to choose whether they want to take additional measures to protect employees. Basic measures such as mandating surgical face masks might give a degree of protection, but respirator masks can minimize the exposure to the virus for all employees. An example of a respirator mask is DittoMask – the mask grips tightly around the mouth and filters all harmful particles.