As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, business leaders face ongoing challenges ensuring the safety of their employees and customers while also striving to keep them satisfied.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using face masks as one of the most effective means of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, most states nationwide now have mask policies in place.
While the majority of Americans embrace wearing masks as a civic duty, there are still customers who are mask resistant for various reasons — whether they believe their rights are being infringed or just dislike wearing them.
If a customer does have a legitimate medical condition preventing them from wearing a mask, businesses are required to provide reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, reasonable accommodations don’t include endangering your workplace. A business can’t force a customer to wear a mask, but they still have the right to deny service. This is similar to the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy.
The bottom line is safety.
Here are some tips to help business leaders and their employees appropriately manage mask-resistant customers:
Safety begins before customers enter your business. If expectations are understood, compliance is more likely. Are your mask requirements listed on your website, social media, and other promotional materials? Signs posted near the entrance clearly stating your mask policy are essential. Employees can be stationed outside or just inside of the entrance to answer questions, hand out masks, and monitor the flow of customers.
If a customer refuses a mask due to disability, avoid asking for details about their medical condition. Instead, steer the conversation toward reasonable accommodations such as curbside pick-up, online ordering, etc. It’s helpful to designate a point person, perhaps a manager to address these situations as they arise. Make every effort to convey the overall message of safety as the ultimate goal for the customers and employees.
A pleasant and understanding tone is vital. When an unmasked customer approaches, it’s more effective to say, “If you forgot your mask we have extras” versus “Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” Gently remind the customer the mask policy is enforced for the safety of everyone including their loved ones at home. Be willing to answer any questions and direct them to a manager if needed.
Show your appreciation and thank your customers for their compliance that allows you to remain open. Display empathy by acknowledging that no one enjoys wearing a mask, especially in the hot summer months, but we do it out of care and concern for others. It helps us remember we are in this together.
If They Still Refuse?
If an unmasked customer doesn’t cite a disability and is intent on putting your patrons and employees at risk, the business is within their legal rights to ask the customer to leave.
If a worst-case scenario persists and customers become combative or endanger others, employees should refrain from using any type of physical force and alert security instead. Avoid arguing with customers or further provoking them. Remaining calm will help to de-escalate the situation.
Unfortunately, there have been incidences of violence involving mask-defiant customers and employees. Workers are caught in the middle of this ongoing conflict but shouldn't be expected to tolerate abusive behavior under any circumstances.