Small businesses feel burden of policing customers who refuse to wear masks

Videos online show employees and customers fighting about face mask guidelines.

In San Antonio, a surveillance camera caught a customer slapping a Bexar County Judge’s business card out of his hands after refusing to wear a mask. Enforcement has become a new reality for businesses after the city of Austin issued an order mandating businesses to require customers to wear masks.

RELATED: Video shows physical confrontation over wearing a face mask involving Bexar County Judge Wolff

Annie Spilman, State Director of NFIB an organization that advocates for small businesses, said the burden has fallen on employers to police face mask requirements.

“They (local leaders)  are making the business the bad guy, they are making the business the enforcer and ultimately the business has to police the people as they come into their business,” said Spilman. “All we are asking from the state and local government is if you are going to turn the business owner into the police then offer some sort of liability protections for them.”

RELATED: Medical professionals urge public to take COVID-19 threat seriously, follow safety measures

Spilman adds the enforcement leaves businesses vulnerable to liability. In one viral video, a woman is arguing with a Party City employee in North Austin. In the video, the customer can be heard saying she has a medical condition and is refusing to wear a mask or leave the store. The employee can be heard saying the store offers curbside and online services. 


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Barry Whaley, Project Director of the Southeast ADA Center in Atlanta, said having a medical condition does not excuse someone from following health guidelines.

“ADA is not preferential treatment, its equal opportunity, so the business owner needs to enter it into a conversation with the person with a disability to find a reasonable modification to their policy or practice,” said Whaley.

RELATED: ‘Face mask exemption cards’ circulating online are fake, DOJ says

Modifications can include, online services, wearing a loosely fitted scarf, a face shield or video chat. According to Southeast ADA Center’s disabilities issues brief, there are three reasons a business does not need to provide modifications: fundamental alteration, undue burden and if the individual poses a direct threat.

“Simply saying I have a disability, I am not going to wear a facemask but I am going to come into your store. The law would be on the side of the business owner to say I believe you represent a direct threat and I am not going to let you in,” said Whaley.

RELATED: Businesses in Austin now to require all customers wear face-coverings

Austin 311 complaints have poured for face-covering violations. According to the city’s dashboard, code enforcement has responded to about 224 calls. If a business receives a second offense they can face a $1,000 fine per day. If a customer refuses to leave, Austin police are called and that customer can be cited for criminal trespass. Austin Police have received more than 300 911 calls since April for COVID-19 mask violations.

Mayor Steve Adler weighed in on enforcement releasing the following statement:

“People need to wear masks because on our current trajectory our hospitals will not be able to confidently handle the impending surge and we will have to disrupt the opening of the economy. No one wants that. Businesses should try to have everyone wear masks because that’s the best way for the business to stay open. Customers should wear masks to help that business stay open. I recognize that this community effort will not be perfect and employees shouldn’t be expected to get in fights with customers. But all of us should try to do everything we can all do to keep the economy open and to protect public health. The Order has the force of law and we will enforce it as against those that are don’t care about putting our community at risk. Thus far, we’ve neither fined nor put anyone in jail. If that’s what we ultimately are relying on to keep our economy open, it won’t work. This has got to be something enough of us want.”


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