The Difficulties with Enforcing Face Mask Policies in Commercial Settings

Although many aspects related to the coronavirus quarantine have been relaxed across New York State, the executive order mandating the use of face masks in public indoor locations remains in effect. While most people have complied with this requirement willingly, a handful of people have vocally objected, often taking out their frustration at the policy on the workers and businesses who are often tasked with enforcing it. How is a business supposed to handle people objecting to wearing a face mask without inviting legal trouble to their doorstep?

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is the single greatest health crisis the United States has faced in at least a century. With more than five million confirmed infections and more than 160,000 dead from the disease, the coronavirus has caused no shortage of strife across the country. New York was particularly hard hit early on, but thanks to the institution of strict quarantine measures, the rate of infection has been on the decline across the state.

Due to this progress, many of the quarantine measures that were originally put into place have since been relaxed, and most stores and public buildings that were previously closed have now been allowed to reopen. However, the requirement on the use of face masks in indoor environments remains, as a means of protecting the public from potential infection. This has rubbed some people the wrong way, and there have been periodic stories of people either refusing to wear a mask in public buildings, or protesting the face mask requirement in loud, occasionally violent ways.

If you are a business owner who has struggled with getting customers to comply with the face mask requirement, there are a few things you can do to avoid trouble. First, if you do not already have something already, you should have a sign at the entrance to your business, as well as in other visible areas on your premises, clearly stating that the face mask requirement is the law, and that refusal to comply with the law can result in both expulsion from your establishment and a $1000 fine. This will make it clear up front that you are serious about the mask ban and are not afraid to involve law enforcement if they become noncompliant.

Second, if your business offers remote meetings, roadside pickup, or delivery services, make it clear that these are available, which can help circumvent any potential problems. Unless the customer is there to deliberately pick a fight (in which case you are likely going to need to escort them off the premises anyway), they would likely prefer to take a nonconfrontational option that gets them what they want over a potential fight with staff. You should also emphasize in your messaging that the face mask policy is intended to protect the health of both employees and customers, should there be a confrontation.

Finally, make sure your employees are trained on face mask procedures and policies. Not only will this increase the effectiveness of the face mask policy, it also makes it easier to enforce these policies when everyone in the store is compliant. You may also want, if you are able, to hand out free face masks to customers who come into the store, so they have no excuse for not having one.

However, there is at least one complication you should be aware of. There are, in fact, some people who have respiratory issues that make wearing a face mask difficult or impossible, and these people are permitted to go into public buildings without face masks under the Executive Order that mandates wearing them. In fact, trying to force someone to wear a face mask when they have a medical condition that makes it impossible may be a violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so be wary of this.

The business law attorneys at Blodnick, Fazio & Clark are skilled and knowledgeable in the areas of business law and commercial transactions.  With offices conveniently located in Garden City, Nassau County, and Babylon, Suffolk County, the firm provides high-quality legal care at reasonable prices. If you require legal assistance concerning business startups, formation, corporate acquisitions and mergers, corporate restructuring, or another business matter, call (516) 280-7105 or fill out our contact form for a free consultation.

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