Advice From the Trenches

Serving Up Some Truth: Can this waitress’ anti-masker boss force her to go bare-faced?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I am a waitress in a very busy high-end restaurant. The government seems to be saying the pandemic is over and a lot of people are tossing their masks – but I read the news, and I know that with the new highly contagious variants, the danger is far from over.  

I hear a lot of my customers talking to each other about how they are not vaccinating.  They have all kinds of reasons from Bill Gates microchips to “It is my right!” OK, fine. I guess they have the right to get sick because of their denial and misinformation, but MY issue lies with my boss. He wants all of the wait staff to ditch our masks. Why? He feels it’s off-putting to his clients for me to be wearing one.  He says customers have even complained, because it interferes with their hearing me. Maybe that is true ­– but so what? 

These people, through their craziness, expose me and subsequently my whole family. Yes I have been vaccinated but a vaccination just means I won’t end up in the ICU or hospitalized. It does not mean I can’t get COVID. I feel it is my right to continue to wear a mask forever if I want to, but my boss threatened to fire me. I need the money to pay mounting bills and the tips are good here, except for a few vindictive anti-maskers, but that is not the majority. I face daily anxiety having to come into this situation, and my boss is completely against me. I don’t know what to do!  –Woeful Wendy

C says: I researched this online, and discovered that it is OSHA, and not your boss, who has the final say on workplace safety. OSHA standards cover pandemic-related safety risks, and under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause, “All employers must provide a­­ work environment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” There are COVID-19-specific guidelines still in place for limiting workers’ exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA still recommends that employees wear masks and makes it clear that social distancing is not a substitute for mask wearing.

You might tell your bonehead boss that if any COVID cases develop at his place of business, the first questions asked will be about safety measures in place to protect both patrons and employees. If OSHA is told that you were not allowed to wear a mask because your employee decided that sucking up to a few customers was more important than public health, they’ll shut him down. Period.

In the meantime, Rhode Island is still providing pandemic unemployment benefits and if you are concerned about the safety of your workplace, this in itself qualifies you to collect in full. If I were you, I’d tell all of this to your boss. If he still insists on risking your health, I’d tell him to go to hell. The judges at unemployment court have no patience for employers like yours.

Dr. B says:  Working at a business where the bosses don’t back up their workers can be like having to go to Hell every day. I feel  for you. You are 100% in the right. Americans are  crazy. Mask wearing and vaccinating are about being aware of other people not just yourself. We have rules for driving so as to limit your chance of killing anyone else on the road. COVID safety measures are there for the same reason – to limit your chances of killing someone else. Unfortunately, in this day and age in the USA, there is little recognition of, or respect for, anyone besides oneself. That is why it is so dangerous to drive now – no one is paying attention to anyone else.   

It is ironic that although Americans are very big on “I know my rights,” a crucial issue such as your right to protect yourself and others is one that may be much more difficult to enforce.

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