No Masks Required: What that Means for Businesses
The phrase “freedom of choice” gets thrown around a lot these days, especially as Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifts the mask mandate and allows businesses to open to 100%. In El Paso, “mask optional” signs can already be seen in places like gyms, box stores, and restaurants. There is room to wonder about how businesses in the state are going to handle the coming months. Community members are left wondering how they can continue to protect themselves if stores do not require face masks. Will we see a decrease in COVID-19 precautions within businesses or will we see individuals sticking to masks regardless of the lifted mandate?
Here's what you need to know about the legal consequences:
- If you are a private business with a mask policy and you ask someone to leave and they don’t, they are committing the offense of criminal trespass. You can call the police.
- If you are an individual who refuses to abide by the rules of a business and you are asked to leave and you don’t, you can be arrested for a Class B Misdemeanor.
- If you are given notice from a business that you are no longer welcome, even one time, and you show up again, you can be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor.
What options do private businesses have?
Our businesses will now face the challenge of how to keep their workers safe and keep their doors open. In previous posts, we’ve covered how private businesses can ensure they are complying with guidelines set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Civil Rights Act when working with their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In this instance, the problems created by Abbott’s actions are threefold:
1. Since local jurisdictions can no longer enforce face mask restrictions or fines, it’s up to the individual businesses to make their own rules… and suffer the consequences;
2. Businesses have a vested interest in keeping their employees safe and many say that they will still require masks but those who don’t may lose employees; and
3. Customers who don’t want to wear masks will not patron businesses that require them, or worse yet, will be furious and lash out at the workers, owners, and/or other patrons.
As you can see, it’s much more complicated than just a simple individual “choice,” especially since workers getting COVID-19 on the job could result in lawsuits, if contraction was due to employer negligence.
Insight from Houston business
In researching this topic, I came across a case coming out of Houston where business owners of the Picos Restaurant took a stance on mask requirements. Picos decided to continue to require masks, putting up a “No Masks, No Tacos” sign. I thought that was clever, but some people did not share my opinion. Upon finding out that Picos would continue requiring masks, the owner told The Washington Post, customers started sending hateful messages and threatening to report their workers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
That’s the world we live in. Then it isn't all about jobs, small businesses, and supporting families, right?
Not to mention that these folks can take their masks off when seated and eating.
The reality is that lifting the mask mandate may hurt businesses more than it helps by increasing the likelihood of angry customers. Others will choose to patron businesses without mask requirements over other smaller mom/pop shops that still require masks. That trend inevitably puts smaller businesses in the position of closing or lifting their mask restrictions.
Listen, if you want to wear a mask or don’t, that is your choice. I hope that we all will be respectful.
If your favorite restaurant does require masks and you’re dead set against it, order takeout. If your gym doesn’t require masks and you’re nervous, switch your workout times to when fewer people are there, or turn to online workouts. If your employer mandates masks, keep coming to work, it’s all well within their rights (of course, if you can’t wear masks due to a disability or medical condition, you’re entitled to a reasonable accommodation).
The law is clear, regardless of any Executive Order and I’m sure you all will behave yourselves.
Here are the Executive Order details you’ve been waiting for:
1. No COVID-19 related operating limits for any business or other establishment.
2. You’re still “encouraged” to wear face coverings, but it’s not mandated.
3. Law enforcement and local government cannot impose fines for refusing to wear masks, even in businesses that still require them.
*These rules are for areas that have no high hospitalizations for COVID-19. In high hospitalization areas, there will still be no masks, but local governments can decrease operating capacities to no less than 50%.
The Executive Order is live on March 10, 2021, at midnight.
If you’re curious about the full text, you can find it here:
Businesses are excited to get back to work and individuals have valid concerns about safety. Let us all work towards the safety of others and regain a sense of normalcy. Continue to take precautions that you are comfortable with whether that is wearing a face mask, sanitizing surfaces, washing your hands frequently or anything in between. We will have to watch to see how the lifted mask mandate will affect Texas.
If you have any other questions send me a message on social media, or if you want to learn more about the law, listen to my podcast, “Now Call Your Lawyer!”
Stay safe and, as always, if you have any questions please email or call me!