Masking the situation
How to handle clients who won’t wear a mask
In mid-April, the TraveLaw Online weekly series was launched with Canadian Travel Press’ sister publications, www.travelpress.com and Press Today.
Each week, travel law experts, Doug Crozier and Tim Law of Heifetz, Crozier, Law respond to questions from travel agent readers to help them with their questions on some of the legal issues that have been raised for them by COVID-19.
This week, CTP offers a selection of some of the questions that Crozier and Law have responded to recently.
Masking the situation
The wearing of masks has become a hot button issue and Crozier and Law have certainly been asked about them, with one reader asking how to deal with clients who arrive at their office and refuse to wear a mask.
Crozier and Law write:
If a client (or clients) arrive at your office and refuses to wear a mask:
1. You are entitled to enforce a “no mask, no service” policy within your office. In some municipalities, there is a bylaw requiring them to be worn in indoor commercial spaces; if there is no local bylaw, you are entitled to make that rule unless there is an idiosyncratic law that prohibits such a policy.
2. Post notice of the policy on your website and social media, on all entrance doors, (perhaps) in the signature block of your emails, etc. Often, a pushback is triggered by the surprise occasioned by the demand for a mask. Eliminate the customer’s surprise and you’ll eliminate a lot of the problem. Better still, include in the notice an explanation of the reasons for it (i.e. the health of staff and the public) so it doesn’t appear to be arbitrary. For emphasis, refer to the local bylaw, if applicable.
3. Arm the staff member closest to the entrance with BOTH a detailed briefing as to the policy, why it exists, and how best to deal with people when enforcing it AND a supply of masks to offer to anyone without one.
4. Educate staff to keep their masks on (or at least at the ready, with instructions to raise them if anyone arrives) so the recalcitrant customer can’t use as leverage the ability to point out that staff are not masking.
5. Anticipate that some customers will say they have a medical condition that precludes masks, and be prepared to accommodate them. It’s rarely good practice to demand a Doctor’s letter, or to argue as to the veracity of that sort of claim. In fact, in some cases, a request for details will violate the customer’s rights to privacy. Rather, include in the Agency’s policy a list of options to offer; e.g. “Let’s talk outside.”, or “Would a clear plastic shield solve the problem?”, or “Could you come back at the end of the business day, so there’ll only be you and the counsellor in the office?” or “Why don’t we have this conversation on the phone or Facetime, etc.?”
6. Anticipate that others may raise a political argument in support of a refusal. Here again, even if you are right, engaging in a debate will likely yield two losers. Stick calmly but firmly to the fact that you have a policy (supported by a bylaw, if that is the case) that needs to be honoured.
What if this doesn’t work?
That question led to a follow up from a reader who wrote: “I can deal with staff who may be hesitant to wear a mask in the office, but it’s the walk-in customers who worry me if they refuse to wear one. Suggestions?”
Crozier and Law respond:
In the event that the potential customer still refuses to don a mask, you’ll have to rely on work you’ve already done, when you drafted a clearly-worded COVID-19 Policy and when you trained your staff.
The employee at the door who first engaged the customer will have informed him of the policy, using her own words. If that doesn’t work, she ought to be able to pick up from her desk two copies of the written policy, hand one to him, and read the exact wording from the copy she has in her hands. She ought then to continue, by reading the escalation process that will be triggered if the refusal continues; for example, “Staff are obliged immediately to inform the Office Manager/Owner if a customer refuses to wear a mask upon entering the office.”
That person ought to be the most senior available person in the agency’s chain of command, and able to use a calm and confident voice to suggest that the conversation continue in a private location outside the office. There, the policy and the reasons for it can be explained again, reasons for the refusal invited, and questions answered. If there is a local Bylaw (see #1 of the prior Q & A), it ought to be referred to and quoted. Options (see #5 of the prior Q & A) can be offered. In all of this, it ought to be made clear that entering the office without a mask is not an option.
In the refusal continues despite this rational conversation, it’ll be time to call building security or local authorities, for mask-less entry would constitute a trespass on the agency’s space. Physical contact must be avoided at all costs. Ditto loud voices and anything that could be seen as evidence of anger.
Once the situation is resolved, one way or the other, the Manager/Owner and the staff member who first engaged the customer ought to write down (separately, and without consultation with each other) an objective and unemotional summary of events. Likewise, any other staffer who may have heard/watched what happened. Those reports ought to be dated and kept in a secure place, in case the story doesn’t end at that point.
Heifetz, Crozier, Law is a Toronto law firm that has for years represented all aspects of the Canadian travel industry. The lawyers at HCL also maintain a non-travel practice, covering litigation, real estate, Wills, corporate/commercial matters, etc. To contact HCL, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.