A popular fast food chain will soon be banning employees in five states from wearing masks while on the job, all in the name of customer service.
In-N-Out Burger’s new policy, which is effective Aug. 14, 2023, restricts employees in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah from wearing masks unless they have a valid medical excuse.
Employees in Oregon and California who choose to wear a mask, or who are required to by state law, must wear a company-provided N95.
At least the company is providing proper N95 masks in those instances where it’ll allow masking – that’s one positive, at least.
The policy will be “reviewed periodically to ensure its effectiveness and compliance with evolving health guidelines.”
Failure to comply with this policy could result in termination.
‘Important to show our Associates’ smiles’
Why is the company compromising employee safety and peace-of-mind in this way, only months after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared over in the U.S.?
The policy states, “We are introducing new mask guidelines that emphasize the importance of customer service and the ability to show our Associates’ smiles and other facial features while considering the health and well-being of all individuals.”
This will also “promote clear and effective communication” between employees and customers, the policy says.
CDC: Employers should support employees who choose to mask
Why is this new policy a problem? The COVID-19 pandemic is over, right? Time to get back to “normal.”
While it’s true that state and federal mask mandates haven’t been in effect for a long time, employees should still be able to mask if they feel like they need to, and employers should support that choice.
That’s according to current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC guidance also states that individuals who have COVID-19 should wear a mask for 10 days following the onset of illness or exposure unless they test negative twice, 48 hours apart with an antigen test. Is that a valid medical excuse allowing an employee to mask under the In-N-Out Burger policy?
Unfortunately, In-N-Out didn’t immediately respond to NPR’s request to answer these kinds of questions.
Lessons learned from pandemic already forgotten
Employees may not want to spread contagious airborne diseases such as the flu or COVID-19 to others if they’ve recently been exposed or contracted an illness. Or they may still be fearful of being exposed to any sort of illness in the wake of a pandemic that claimed more than a million lives in the U.S. alone.
As an August 2021 Washington Post story points out, as bad as the COVID-19 pandemic was, a future pandemic from a yet-undiscovered disease could be much worse.
“As public health emergencies recede, societies often quickly forget their experiences — and fail to prepare for future challenges,” Eric Lander, science advisor for the Biden administration, states in the Post story. “For pandemics, such a course would be disastrous. New infectious diseases have been emerging at an accelerating pace, and they are spreading faster.”
While masks are far from being the best protection against infectious airborne diseases, they do offer an extra layer of protection for front-line workers.
Employees who come down with an illness are often required to still report to work, whether due to their own financial concerns or because of job demands. If those employees, or those working around them, choose to mask they’re taking precautions to prevent illness from spreading.
That’s something that was applauded during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it seems that companies such as In-N-Out Burger have already forgotten those lessons.
Having employees prepared to return to masking, should the need ever arise again, is a good thing. That’s an extra step forward in being prepared for the next pandemic.
Also, keep in mind that federal OSHA is still working on an infectious disease standard that could eventually impact these types of company policies.