Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Even as mask mandates end, some businesses retain rules
NEW YORK — Several weeks have passed since Texas ended its COVID-19 mask mandate. But if you want to pick up a snack at Soul Popped Gourmet Popcorn in Austin’s Barton Creek Square Mall, you’ll still be turned away if you aren’t wearing a face covering.
“We cannot afford to take chances with the lives of my staffers. They’re young people and their parents have entrusted me with their care,” says owner De J. Lozada. She’s also concerned about her 85-year-old father, who will soon return to his part-time job in the store.
Eighteen states currently have no mask requirements, including some that have never made face coverings mandatory. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate March 2, and Indiana ended its mandate Tuesday.
But many business owners like Lozada are keeping their own rules in place, requiring staffers and customers alike to wear masks for the sake of protecting everybody, particularly their employees.
And the law is on an owner’s side. A company’s premises are private property, so owners can insist that customers wear masks, just as restaurants can require that diners wear shoes and shirts in order to be served, says Michael Jones, an attorney with the law firm Eckert Seamans in Philadelphia. It’s legal as long as owners don’t enforce their requirements in a discriminatory way, he says.
If a customer enters a store without a mask, is asked to leave and doesn’t, that could be trespassing under the law. Lozada says she would call 911 if faced with that situation.
Most retail chains require employees and customers to wear masks. One exception, Foot Locker, says each store is following the requirements of the state where it’s located.
Employers have an obligation under federal law and some state laws to provide a safe workplace for their employees, and that can include requiring everyone on the premises to wear masks.
Many employees want their bosses to require masks. The 16 massage therapists who work for Amber Briggle cannot maintain the recommended 6-foot distance from their clients and still do their work. She requires masks for everyone at her two Soma Massage locations in Denton, Texas. She told her customers in a blog post, “these same masks have kept all of us healthy since we reopened in May — we haven’t had a single COVID case transmitted here despite the thousands of people we’ve seen.”
But some owners don’t want their customers or clients to feel uncomfortable. When clients at Vanessa Perry’s Houston-based credit counseling service ask if they can take off their masks, she says OK.
“We are keeping our distance and letting our clients do what makes them comfortable,” says Perry, owner of Impeccable Credit Services.
Perry and her staffers remain masked.