Businesses face fines for coronavirus mask violations, but most are complying

  • Mon Oct 12th, 2020 3:19pm
  • News

TUMWATER — A handful of businesses are facing fines for violations related to lack of mask use by customers and staff. Yet thousands of others that were the subject of complaints are following the governor’s order after numerous contacts and education about requirements from L&I.

Since mid-July, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has looked into mask complaints concerning more than 4,200 retailers, restaurants and other businesses in the state. In the vast majority of cases, the businesses that were violating the rules complied after L&I staff explained the requirements, or the initial complaints to the state were not substantiated.

L&I can cite employers who refuse to follow masking and other requirements. The agency has fined eight companies for violating the state public mask mandate and endangering their workers’ health. Three others were cited after public mask complaints led to L&I finding worker mask violations.

“Wearing masks helps protect workers and others by reducing exposure to the virus in our communities so we can reduce fatalities and the impact to our health care system,” said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).

“Our goal is to get employers to comply with mask requirements through education and assistance, but if that doesn’t work they can be cited and fined.”

Businesses must ensure customers and visitors wear masks

In July, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered businesses to make sure that their customers and visitors wear face coverings, unless they have a medical or disability issue. Businesses also were required, among other things, to post signs at entrances reminding customers to wear a mask, and to create a policy for what workers should do if customers refuse.

The rules are in addition to earlier requirements, such as ensuring workers wear appropriate face coverings or respirators and keep at least six feet away from other employees and customers unless the task cannot be done any other way.

In-person visits, phone calls, warning letters

The state Emergency Operation Center’s reporting system (www.coronavirus.wa.gov) has received thousands of public masking complaints, and has directed many of them to L&I. The Department of Licensing and the Liquor and Cannabis Board are also responding to complaints.

Complaints by workers are forwarded directly to L&I’s DOSH staff. In most of the other L&I cases, the department’s investigators visit the business anonymously. If investigators find the complaints are valid, staff contact employers to inform them of public masking requirements.

At that point, most businesses agree to follow the rules. Uncooperative companies receive a warning letter saying they could be cited if they continue to break the law.

If complaints are about major corporations, L&I works directly with the chains’ corporate safety staff to investigate public masking complaints. The department follows up to ensure mask issues, if any, are resolved. In addition, these large corporations are still subject to L&I safety and health inspections.

And any employer who’s found through additional spot checks or complaints continuing to violate the law faces formal enforcement action.

Since mid-July, L&I has conducted more than 4,300 spot checks at businesses, including multiple visits at some locations.

L&I has fined eight employers for public mask violations from July through September. None are in Grays Harbor or Pacific counties.

Safe Start violations

L&I is also enforcing the governor’s Safe Start proclamation prohibiting most businesses from operating unless their county is in the appropriate phase of the statewide plan to reopen, and the businesses follow specific safety requirements. The department issued 11 Safe Start citations over the summer.

In addition to issuing the citations, the department has conducted hundreds of inspections and consultations focusing on COVID-19 and worker safety.

To learn about mask requirements or report violations of state mask or Safe Start requirements, go to www.coronavirus.wa.gov.