A woman sitting down having a coffee and staring at a facial mask in her other hand

Rules Aren’t Meant to Be Broken: When Customers (or Other People) Ignore Safety Measures

Reopening is firmly here, but so is the pandemic still, meaning businesses must take precautions to prevent exposing employees and the public to infection. Many stores are limiting occupancy, reducing hours, requiring masks, among other measures—usually taking multiple simultaneous precautions.

If employees fail to follow your new health and safety guidelines, your course is pretty clear: unless they have a reasonable objection like requiring an accommodation, employees must follow safety protocols or face appropriate progressive discipline. What’s less clear is an employer’s option when the reluctant party isn’t an employee. What happens when a customer refuses to wear a mask, for example? Or a supplier, vendor, or visitor?

Regardless of jurisdiction, employers have broad rights to refuse service or entry to their premises to members of the public.

You still have to avoid discrimination based on a prohibited ground, and you may have to account for accommodations, but that still leaves you a lot of leeway to enforce your rules. The pandemic is a real and serious threat, especially with businesses reopening, so allowing customers or other visitors to the workplace to flout your rules places everyone at risk. 

Employees and customers will judge organizations for their behaviour during this crisis, and appearing not to take the danger seriously could have serious consequences for your organization’s reputation and trust—even if no one actually gets sick. The more seriously we all take the danger, the less likely it is that governments will have to institute additional lockdowns, and the greater our chance of preventing further illness or loss of life. By making small collective sacrifices to our comfort and convenience, we can lessen the shocks of this pandemic. 

In some jurisdictions, masks in public spaces have become mandatory through regulations, including city by-laws. While this can help take some of the responsibility off the employer, you could still encounter someone who refuses to wear a mask for a number of reasons, and you or your employees might need to have a difficult conversation. It can be even more challenging for employees to deal with if they aren’t confident in how to handle these types of situations. Download our Guide to Dealing with Non-employees Refusing to Wear PPE for tips on how you can keep everyone safe—and keep the peace—when customers refuse to follow safety guidelines.

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