Enforcing Mask Guidelines in Restaurants

For an industry that caters to the people it serves, Cox says it's hard to assume the enforcer's role

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Businesses have been forced to reckon with a new normal, which means keeping customers in check about masks. Jessica Cox, the general manager of The Local in the Gaslamp, says masks at the door can pose a problem for some patrons.

“There have been issues. Maybe they accidentally forget or say 'this is all new to us,'” Cox said. “We’re all trying to do the best we can.”

She told NBC 7 it has been a difficult burden to take on and is grateful to see the state’s stamp on masks, hoping it alleviates some of the tension between customers. For an industry that caters to the people it serves, Cox says it's hard to assume the enforcer's role.

"It is uncomfortable policing patrons that want to come into your establishment to spend money, and you have to give them guidelines,” Cox said.

Cox says she handles masks on a case-by-case basis where she tries to have conversations with customers and de-escalate the situation rather than immediately dismiss recalcitrant customers.

In some cases, business owners are turning away customers who choose not to wear a mask.

Labor and employment attorney Meagan Garland says business owners are within their right to do so, given the state of the pandemic.

“Certainly, a store could refuse service to people who are not wearing a mask,” Garland said.

However, Garland says this doesn’t mean businesses are cleared from potential lawsuits when things get confrontational. She says things can still take a turn and amplify. That’s why she says its imperative businesses develop protocols that mirror the health order and adhere to the business plan in place.

“Not deviate in a way that could cause further liability,” Garland said.

She says making guesstimates and thinking spaces are safe enough to ease up on restrictions on a moment-by-moment basis could put some business owners in legal hot water. She says it might seem fine to relax from your perspective, but it could be seen as negligent if things take an unforeseeable turn.

“Because someone can say, 'hey, I contracted the virus from this store, and I walked in, and someone didn’t have a mask on.' That’s an uphill battle that a store owner should probably not want to take on," she says.

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