The Unmasking of Three New Mask Orders
Houston — June 23, 2020 Last week, the City of Austin ordered a new mask policy for commercial businesses. Travis County quickly issued a county order, and then Harris County issued their own order one day later. With reported cases of coronavirus increasing throughout these two regions, city and county leaders are working to mitigate the risk of even more virus infections.
The three orders mandate that all commercial entities that provide goods or services directly to the public, must craft and post a policy which requires all employees and customers/visitors to wear a face covering or mask onsite when it is not possible to reasonably maintain the standard 6 foot social distancing requirement.
Companies who do not provide goods or services to the general public, may skirt the requirements of this new order—but this is not made clear from the orders themselves. Although the new orders may not apply to business that do not provide goods or services directly to the public, companies such as these, are still required to comply with the general duties under OSHA regarding employee health. Due to the ambiguity in the myriad of orders, it is best practices to post your health and safety protocol and require masks within your business when social distancing is not feasible to avoid a possible violation.
Here is a summary of the orders:
City of Austin: Effective June 17 to August 15, 2020, all commercial entities in the City of Austin providing goods and services directly to the public must develop and implement a health and safety plan. That plan must require, at a minimum, all employees and visitors to wear face coverings while on the business premises or other facilities except in the following circumstances: when a person is alone in a separate single space (indoors or outdoors), when the person is with same household family members (indoors or outdoors), when doing so poses a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, when the person is outdoors (allowed by Governor’s Order GA-26) or when eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar. The policy must be posted in a highly visible place on premises, and a printable copy of the signage can be found here.
Travis County: Travis County issued an order effective from June 18 to August 15, 2020, parroting the Austin order, but including age parameters and new verbiage that employees and visitors must also “wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where six feet of separation is not feasible.” The order contains the required signage to be posted in a highly visible area. Relevant businesses have until June 23rd to implement and post this policy (or a similar one), or face a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. This mandate also applies to all municipalities within Travis County.
The order contained the same exemptions to the Health and Safety Policy as found in the Austin order (listed above), but added that children aged 10 and under should still be properly masked outside of their residences.
Harris County: On June 19th, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered that all commercial entities in Harris County that provide goods or services directly to the public must develop a Health and Safety Policy which requires that, at a minimum, all employees or visitors to the entity’s premises must wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public. The order is in effect from June 22nd to June 30th, but likely will be extended into August. The verbiage in the order is essentially that of Travis County’s, including the age requirement, but further suggests that the Harris County document, Business Guidance for Mitigating the Spread, might also be incorporated into the Policy. As with the other orders, this new Health and Safety Policy must be posted in a conspicuous location sufficient to give notice to employees and visitors. Pertinent companies have until June 27th to implement and post this policy, or face a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. The full order may be found here.
In addition to the same exemptions listed in both Austin and Travis County orders, Harris County added that persons working in a building that requires security surveillance or screening would not have to wear a mask or face covering.
None of the orders impose a criminal or civil penalty on individuals for failure to wear a face covering, per Governor Abbot’s Executive Order GA-26. However, based on the new orders, and provided that the Policy signage is easily visible to everyone, commercial entities can now refuse entry to any individual who is not wearing a face covering in order to avoid potential violations and fines.
For additional questions about these programs, please contact Wesley M. Walker.
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