How does a business navigate enforcing a face mask policy when someone says they don’t want to wear one? Do you call the police?
What if a person has a medical reason not to wear one? And who is liable if a business allows a person to enter their store that has a medical reason to not wear a face covering?
These questions were posed by Chehalis City Councilor Chad Taylor at the July 13 city council meeting and after city attorney Erin Hillier read the guidelines provided by the Governor’s office Taylor said, “It’s kind of confusing, right?”
Hillier replied, “It’s very confusing.”
The Chronicle spoke with some local business managers and owners about their understanding of the guidance provided by the state and the responses were a mixed bag, ranging from ‘I don’t understand at all’ to ‘I understood the guidance from day one.’
Garet Russo, owner of Fuller’s Shop’n Kart is one of the owners who wasn’t satisfied with the state’s guidance.
“As far as (the guidance) we got from the state level, it wasn’t very clear,” he said.
When The Chronicle asked the same questions that Taylor raised at the city council meeting, Russo paused and said, “I don’t know, really.”
He said his business has been complying with the face covering mandate as much as it can and even reached out to the Washington Food Industry Association for some clarification, which helped, Russo said, but still, “there’s been no clear cut answer,” and “it puts us in a bad spot.”
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, two barbers at Jae’s Barbershop in Centralia said they were informed of the guidance from the state on day one of the mandate and they found nothing that caused them to raise an eyebrow.
“We have told people that we could be fined,” Mary Amos, a barber at Jae’s Barbershop, said, and everyone so far has been willing to comply.
But hypothetically speaking, what is a barber to do when a potential customer says they can’t wear a mask because of a medical reason? There’s no curbside pickup for cutting hair.
Amos didn’t have an answer, but according to guidance provided by the Governor’s office, the correct action would be to schedule an appointment when social distancing can be ensured.
Falling somewhere in between was Greg Anderson, owner of Anderson’s True Value in Centralia, who said he hasn’t even seen any guidance from the state but says he understands what the mandate is asking.
His understanding is elementary, and perhaps that is for the best: If you’re wearing a mask, you can enter his business, if you’re not, he will ask you to put one on. If you still don’t want to, or can’t for a medical reason, then he will try and make some sort of curbside pickup accommodation.
However, “97 percent of people are putting their masks on,” Anderson said, and he hasn’t had to make accommodations for anyone yet.
According to Chehalis Police Sergeant Gwen Carroll, calls related to businesses with noncompliant customers have been few and far between. And when Chehalis Police have been dispatched to a business, they are coming to educate either the customer or the business on available accommodations.
“We haven’t even come close to making an arrest,” Carroll said. “In most cases both sides have been pretty okay with it.”
On July 7 the Governor’s office provided a statement regarding the statewide face covering requirement and in it, it listed five steps businesses can take to lawfully abide by the mandate.
It says a business should first politely educate a customer about the face mask requirement and if the customer still doesn’t want to wear one, the business should then politely inquire if the customer has a medical reason for not wearing a mask.
For customers who are unable to wear a mask, the businesses are encouraged to offer accommodations like curbside pickup or a scheduled appointment where social distancing can be assured.
For customers who don’t have a medical reason to not wear a face covering, the business should politely inform the customer they can’t be served there and if the customer refuses to leave the guidance states that a business would follow the protocol they normally would if a customer is asked to leave but refuses, which could include calling local law enforcement.
More information on the guidance being given by the state for businesses to enforce the face covering requirement can be found at coronavirus.wa.gov.