Do you have to serve customers without a face covering?

On June 24, 2020, Dr. John Wiesman, the Washington Secretary of Health, issued the statewide Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03 “Face Coverings – Statewide”  (the “Face Cover Order”) whereby:

“Every person in Washington State must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth when in any indoor or outdoor public setting, including but not limited to: Inside any building, including, but not limited to, any business, that is open to the public…” (emphasis added)

In addition to the Face Covering Order, the Office of the Governor released the Overview of CoVID-19 Statewide Face Covering Requirements  on July 7, 2020 (the “Best Practices Guide”), which outlines best practices for business owners and how to implement the face covering requirements, and Order 20-25.6 “Safe Start – Stay Healthy” County-by-County Reopening (the “Safe Start Reopening Order”), which states:

“No business may operate, allow a customer to enter a business, or conduct business with a customer inside any building that is open to the public or outdoors in a public place unless the customer is wearing a face covering, as required by Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03…” (emphasis added)

Between the Face Cover Order, the Safe Start Reopening Order, and the Best Practices Guide, all Washington businesses are required to take steps to decline service to customers who refuse to wear a face covering outside of the provided exceptions (ex: medical or disability exceptions). Labor and Industries has created a reporting complaint form whereby the public can report businesses who are not enforcing face covering requirements and the business could be fined a “penalty of nearly $10,000 or more.”

If your business is reported, the general process will be (1) for the appropriate state agency or law enforcement to investigate the complaint, (2) the appropriate state agency or law enforcement to contact your business to discuss education and state requirements, and (3) if your business continues to not comply, your business could be subject to criminal charges and/or Consumer Protection Act violations.

What to do if you have a non-face covered customer?

So how does your business handle a customer who refuses to wear a face covering? We have all seen the non-face covered individuals on social media who act out when asked to abide by CoVID-19 regulations, often related to face coverings, and the sometimes physical reactions these individuals take out on fellow customers and service providers.

The Best Practices Guide outlines 5 steps to handling a customer who refuses to wear a face covering. The 5 steps can be summarized as (1) educate the customer on Washington’s regulations; (2) inquire if the customer has a medical condition or disability that would provide an exemption; (3) provide accommodations for the non-covered customers; (4) request the non-covered, non-exempt customer to leave the premises; and (5) implement your business’s policies and procedures for escorting out a non-welcomed customer.

It is best for your business to develop policies and procedures for handling a non-covered customer and then to educate all employees on the policies and procedures. Further, your business should post signs indicating that your business will not be serving customers without face coverings in accordance with Washington state regulations so that customers are aware you are abiding by Washington regulations.

It is vitally important for your business to enforce Washington’s new regulations so that your employees and other customers are protected and that your business is not reported to state agencies or law enforcement.

The above article is for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as specific legal advice. If you would like help with drafting or reviewing your business’s CoVID-19 policies, or if you have any other legal questions, feel free to reach out to Tara M. Vitale at tara@apexlg.com. This article, or contacting Apex, does not in any way form an attorney-client relationship.

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