When it comes to re-opening our businesses, the customer is not always right

We’ve been closely monitoring the impact of COVID on businesses and people across the country, and the consensus nationwide is that we want and need to reopen. Recognizing that we all remain exposed to the COVID virus as we reenter our daily lives, leadership consistently is calling upon all of us to do our part to help curtail the spread as we reopen and readjust to the new normal of day-to-day life.

In Texas, Governor Abbott has appeared in a number of interviews imploring citizens to wear masks when we venture out into public places to enjoy businesses that are trying to safely reopen and to follow posted protection notices. Meanwhile, despite reported spikes in the numbers of COVID infections and deaths in many places, there are many among us who refuse to do their part to help stop the spread of the virus, AND who insist that others around them NOT do their part. And sadly, some have resorted to violence in response to being asked to wear a mask or adhere to other protective measures when inside the establishments re-opening per state and federal guidelines.

In the past several days we have been contacted by several business owners seeking our advice and counsel about how to respond to customers who not only refuse to wear masks or cooperate with other protective requests made by the businesses, but who demand that, for example, employees who are wearing masks and adhering to protective measures not do so when serving them. We are hearing stories of customers engaging in confrontational expressions of their "discomfort" about being served by someone wearing a mask, because it "detracts from the full store or restaurant experience”. Others, when confronted by the business owners or operators about their requests, have threatened to sue for "violations of their constitutional rights” or for suggestions that they might wish to visit another establishment offering services more in line with their personal level of comfort.

More to the point, we have been asked what business owners and operators can or should do when customers react with hostility either by refusing to adhere to requested protective measures, or by insisting that those who serve them not do so. These are unprecedented times, and as we’ve been discussing, businesses who choose to reopen must do so safely, with the ultimate goal being to protect all employees and all patrons alike. Those patrons who emotionally and vocally disrupt business activities are not welcome, and should be politely asked to leave with a heartfelt invitation to return when they are comfortably able to enjoy the business's offerings, while following the measures put in place to ensure their safety and the safety of others. Those who continue to threaten or commit acts of violence should and will be reported to local law enforcement. And in response to those who threaten to sue, business owners should de-escalate the situation and let them do what they feel they must do. Such lawsuits, if filed, will not go very far and Texas has penalties available for those who file baseless or frivolous suits.

As always, we continue to monitor the evolving situation around re-opening and are here to advise you about best practices in your re-opening strategies, business interruption claims, and other legal ramifications of re-opening during this "new normal". Feel free to reach at, kchaiken@chaikenlaw.com or rchaiken@chaikenlaw.com.