Can businesses require customers to wear face masks?
Face mask requirements have posed a problem for some who claim a medical disability prevents them from wearing one
FARGO, N.D. — For many businesses, reopening during the pandemic brings along safety concerns for both shoppers and employees.
“Research shows that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to prevent spreading COVID-19, and then that way, if we’re protected and our customers are protected, that helps us keep our doors open,” says Erica Sponsler, co-owner of Game Giant in downtown Fargo.
Game Giant, along with some other businesses in the area, require everyone inside to wear a face mask.
A video shot by a customer at Visionworks in the West Acres Mall shows a staff member refusing to serve him because he would not wear one.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, has deemed the pandemic a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
That means employers are obligated to keep their employees and customers safe.
That’s why Labor and Employment Law Attorney Lisa Edison-Smith with Vogel Law in Fargo says businesses may enforce a mask-wearing policy.
“We’re in a pandemic and the ADA has an exception. And the EEOC, which is the federal agency that enforces the ADA, has recognized that the pandemic itself, that COVID-19, poses a direct threat to the safety of individuals.”
Edison-Smith says staff should be trained to have accommodations available to those refusing to wear a mask due to a medical disability.
“It should be a problem solving exercise between the business and the individual who requires the accommodation. Calmly discuss: what is the issue, don’t ask for details about what the disability is, and discuss, are there alternatives?”
Those alternatives can include options like curbside pickup, serving the customer during non-business hours, or providing them other PPE, like a face shield.
“If you can’t do that,” she says, “I think you can still tell the customer, ‘We can’t serve you right now, but we’re going to follow up and try to get some advice on what our obligations are.'”
Edison-Smith adds that retail stores and service establishments are not covered by HIPAA regulations.