Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Coronavirus Update 8-11-2020: States should follow Illinois’ lead in making it a felony to assault an employee over a mask rule

Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster … and assault? 

Sesame Place is the latest employer to have an employee assaulted for trying to enforce a mask rule. It joins more likely suspects such as Target, WalMart (which has said that for the protection of its employees it will not require them to enforce mask rules), and McDonald's (of which 44% of its employees report being physically of verbally assaulted by a non-mask-wearing customer). 

Illinois is now the first state to enact a law targeted at this abhorrent behavior.  

The law amends the definition of "aggravated battery" to specifically include an offense targeted at an employee who is "performing his or her duties, including, but not limited to, relaying directions for healthcare or safety from his or her supervisor or employer or relaying health or safety guidelines, recommendations, regulations, or rules from a federal, State, or local public health agency." In layman's terms, a customer who attacks an employee because that employee is trying to enforce a COVID-19 mask or other safety rule faces two to five years in prison.

According to a statement put out by the office of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, "This provision sends the message that it’s vitally important for workers to be both respected and protected while serving on the front lines."

Other states should follow Illinois' lead and enact similar legislation. Employees need protection from these dangerous reactions to basic health and safety rules. I don't believe your employees should be your front-line enforcers or mask and other safety rules. As I wrote three months ago, employers shouldn't "leave it up to untrained employees to try to enforce these rules and potentially deal with escalating hostilities and violence." Instead, employers should "deploy trained personnel (ideally security, but at least someone at management level) to enforce a mandatory mask rule in your business, and also train all other employees not to engage and instead to summon a designated responder."

Still, even in the best of circumstances an employee may be put in harm's way by an irrationally dangerous customer. No employee should face the risk of bodily injury just for telling someone to wear a mask. Laws like that enacted by Illinois send the message that this special brand of misbehavior should not and will not be tolerated.