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Can Businesses Deny Entry For Failure to Wear Face Masks?

More businesses are enforcing face mask policies as the Covid-19 pandemic enters its seventh month in America. McDonalds joins CVS, Target, and Wal-Mart when McDonalds announced a requirement that all customers will be required to wear facial coverings beginning August 1, 2020.

McDonalds announced in a press release that customers would be required to wear masks, in-person dining would be prohibited for an extended period of time, and that plastic dividers would be installed in the front and back of its restaurants. McDonald’s states that its policies are meant to “protect the safety of all employees and customers.”

Assaulting Retail Employees Who Enforce Facial Mask Rules

Not everyone is happy with facial mask rules. However, some people are taking their frustration on employees who are required to enforce these rules. Some retail customers verbally abuse employees who ask them to wear masks. Other customers spit in their faces. There is even one instance in California where a woman asked her husband to shoot at a security guard for asking her to wear a mask.

Most of these violations are treated as regular petty crimes, but Illinois is taking a tougher approach. Illinois has made it a felony to assault retail workers who are enforcing facial mask rules. Anyone in Illinois convicted under the new law will be subject to five years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

Right to Refuse Service

Businesses can generally refuse service provided that they do so within the law. The most significant restriction on a businesses’ right to refuse service is on the basis of illegal discrimination. The Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses from refusing service on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex, gender, or color. However, businesses can refuse service for legitimate reasons such as health and safety.

Moreover, many jurisdictions already require that businesses enforce a facial mask policy in order to remain open. If a business refuses service based on a legal mandate, the customer’s grievance should be with the law instead of the business.

For instance, the new Illinois law also gives state public health and law enforcement officers more power to enforce facial mask guidelines on businesses. Businesses that are non-compliant with public health guidelines will be given a written warning first. Subsequent offenses will result in customer limitations. Three or more violations may result in a class A misdemeanor and/or a fine of anywhere between $75 and $2,500 for the subject business.

Are These Rules Constitutional?

All these rules go back to the same debate about whether local mask ordinances are constitutional. Illinois’ new felony law regarding assaulting retail workers will most likely be upheld as assault on anyone for any reason is illegal. Assaulting retail workers for upholding state law and corporate policy is a new low though and behavior that can be upgraded to a felony if Illinois sees enough of an uptake in violence.

The larger issue of course is whether it is constitutional for states to enforce facial mask wearing for everyone within their borders. During a global pandemic, states have the responsibility to take reasonable measures to protect citizens from a deadly virus. They are the least restrictive means of protecting public health.

As facial mask mandates are essential, the question is whether forcing businesses to enforce these rules is permissible. For businesses that were initially forced to close because of stay-at-home orders, the ability to reopen with public mask restrictions are a very reasonable compromise in order to remain open. Police officers cannot stand in every single store and even if they could their reputation for fair and equal enforcement these last several months have taken significant blows.

It is unfortunate that the task for keeping Americans safe from a global pandemic has fallen to McDonalds and Wal-Mart workers (among other retail workers). These workers are among the least paid in the country and the most abused and are now being asked to on roles that are well-above their pay grade. Hopefully Americans will do more for them than to give them a pat on the back and call them “essential.” But right now, retail workers are the best we have for keeping Covid-19 down. They are legally permitted to serve this important task even if morally the job should be given to others.

Do I Need An Attorney For A Face Mask Issue?

A criminal defense attorney can make sure you know all your rights, that they are being protected, and will know the best strategies to help you get the best outcome possible in your case. Access to an attorney is your right even with face mask issues.


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