Can a Manager Refuse Service Over Refusal to Wear a Mask?
Many places all over the world are enforcing the use of face coverings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail businesses, grocery stores, and gas stations have signs in their windows that say, “No Mask, No Service.” Generally, most of the public has complied with mask regulations. Others, not so much. Countless videos have gone viral showing customers refusing to wear masks in business establishments and being asked to leave the store, leading to hostile exchanges between managers, employees, and other customers.
These incidents have fostered conversations around whether managers have the authority to refuse service to someone not wearing a mask. The simple answer: yes. Technically, if you’re on private property, managers can legally refuse to serve you if you are not wearing a mask without infringing on your civil liberties.
How the Constitution Protects Private Businesses
Although the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, religion, press, petition, and assembly, this only applies to actions by U.S. government officials, not private businesses, which aren’t owned by the government. Therefore, a private business can mandate the use of face coverings and refuse service to those who don’t adhere to the regulations.
What about my personal liberty to make choices regarding my own health and body? The constitution states that if your liberties endanger the health and safety of the greater public good, then the government can restrict your freedom to protect public health. Meaning, a business or government agency can enforce the use of face masks to preserve the health and safety of the community.
What Can a Manager Do If I Refuse to Wear a Mask?
Besides denying you service, managers can do a few things to protect their businesses when heated situations arise. If someone refuses to follow business mandates—in this case, wearing a mask—and a fight or loud argument occurs that disturbs the operation of a private business or customers, this could be considered an act of disorderly conduct. Examples of disorderly conduct may include:
- Fighting, threatening, or reckless behavior
- Disturbing the peace
- Behavior that compromises the safety of the public
- Violating noise ordinances
If the situation doesn’t resolve itself in a timely manner and a manager believes that your behavior jeopardizes the welfare of people in the establishment, under Florida Statutes 509.142 and 509.143, they have the right to refuse service or accommodations, detain you, and notify the authorities. Once law enforcement takes over, you should comply with their procedures. While disorderly conduct is usually punished as a second-degree misdemeanor offense, resisting arrest can lead to more serious criminal charges.
If you’re convicted of disorderly conduct, not only will you end up with fines and possible probation time, but the manager may have grounds to ban you from their establishment. If—and only if—you have evidence showing a manager acted unreasonably, you may pursue legal action. However, you’ll need a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to help build a strong legal case.
What If I Have a Disability and Can’t Wear a Mask?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits privately owned businesses operating in the public domain from discriminating against a customer’s race, color, religion, disability, or national origin. However, businesses can deny service to a protected group. This refusal cannot be random, unreasonable, or single out a specific group of people.
This means that businesses must be consistent with their policies. They can’t pick and choose between who they want to let in or not. For instance, if they let in a disabled woman not wearing a mask, then it wouldn’t be justifiable to refuse service to a disabled man not wearing a mask. In addition, businesses must be mindful of how their restrictions might exclude certain identities. A policy proposing the use of head scarfs as an inappropriate type of face covering would discriminate against the Muslim community.
Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that those with disability must be “reasonably accommodated” if they are unable to wear a mask due to an underlying health condition. Examples of such disabilities include:
- Respiratory disabilities such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, claustrophobia
- Autism or cerebral palsy
- A tongue-controlled wheelchair
Reasonable accommodations to a face mask policy include:
- Allowing customers to wear a scarf, face shield, or loose fitting covering instead of a mask
- Offering curbside pickup or no-contact delivery online or over the phone
- Making appointments for store visitation online or over the phone
On the other hand, businesses may be exempt from providing reasonable accommodations if the change would result in a fundamental alteration of their services, impact or burden the safety or administrative/financial operations of the establishment, or pose a direct threat to the wellbeing of others.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney in Orlando Today
Being arrested is a scary experience, but it doesn’t mean you’re guilty of a crime. Although it feels like your life has been turned upside down, it is imperative that you don’t let that stop you from taking legal action. Your arrest is just the beginning of an uphill battle, which is why you need to meet with a trusted criminal defense attorney to plan a strong defense strategy and help point out weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case against you. In doing so, you have a better chance at moving past this setback and clearing your name.
At the Umansky Law Firm, we believe that no matter what legal matter you’re facing, you have the right to seek skilled, professional, and aggressive legal counsel. We’ll not only back your case with over 100 years of combined experience, but we’ll make sure that you understand your rights and the charges against you. Committing our full attention and expertise has allowed us to achieve successful results for our clients. We’re ready to do the same for you. Call our office or complete our contact form to schedule your free consultation today.