In-N-Out's Multistate Mask Ban For Employees Incites Public Pushback

Popular West Coast fast food chain, In-N-Out Burger, has incited public pushback following its confirmed decision to prohibit customer-facing employees from wearing masks in five states starting August 14, unless medically necessary. This "customer-centric" policy change (with an internal memo leaked to Twitter) applies to the company's Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Utah outlets. At the same time, employees in California and Oregon remain exempt and can choose to wear masks at work. And employees who must wear masks and protective gear to work, like painters and lab techs, can continue to wear masks.

To justify this decision, In-N-Out's Chief Operating Officer, Denny Warnick, suggested masks detract from nonverbal communication, a crucial aspect of In-N-Out Burger's customer service since 1948. Warnick argued in a company-circulated statement, " ... a smiling associate helps to set a warm and inviting atmosphere in our stores."

In-N-Out Burger's new mask ban policy has not been received well by the public. Gwen Bishop, a Seattle-based writer and artist with long COVID, initiated a petition on calling for a reversal of what is described as a "dangerous and discriminatory" policy. Bishop states, "This policy endangers employees' lives and discriminates against disabled and immunocompromised individuals ... With no cure for Long Covid, masking and COVID-19 safety are crucial workers' rights concerns. Businesses must not jeopardize employees' lives." As of this writing, Bishop's petition has garnered over 14,830 signatures.

In-N-Out stands firm despite public backlash and employees risk termination for non-compliance

Criticism has also poured in from the public, including health professionals. Among the most vocal is infectious disease physician Dr. Judy Stone, who criticized the company on Twitter, stating, "This violates #CDC #Covid recs and endangers #employees." In Forbes, she further elaborates, "Risking their employees' health in such a fashion may be 'unmatched,' but not in the way company officials believe. And if their only concern is seeing their employees' smiles, there are masks with transparent windows over the mouth."

Despite public pushback, In-N-Out stands firm on its new mask ban policy, highlighting potential penalties for employees who fail to comply, including disciplinary action and possibly job termination. The company has clarified that medically exempt employees must wear company-provided N-95 masks, and in their internal memo stated, "a different type of mask may only be worn with a valid medical note exempting the Associate from the N-95 mask requirement."

In the past, In-N-Out has faced controversy over its COVID-19 policies. In 2021, after the Department of Public Health shut down a San Francisco outlet for not checking customers for proof of COVID vaccination, Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out's Chief Legal and Business Officer, stated, "We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government."