In-N-Out Burger’s revised face-covering guidelines, recently issued to bar employee masks in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah after Aug. 14 unless the workers have a medical note, continues to reverberate among customers.
On Friday, Change.org, the petition platform, said it had garnered more than 13,700 signatures on an online petition to “reverse dangerous and discriminatory” personal-protection equipment policies at the Irvine, Calif.-based burger brand. Masks become commonplace among restaurant workers during the early years of the COVID19 pandemic to help reduce the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, the company’s communications department on Friday sent a statement from Denny Warnick, In-N-Out’s chief operating officer, explaining the policy change further. Warnick said: “At In-N-Out Burger, we’ve communicated with our smiles since 1948, and a smiling associate helps to set a warm and inviting atmosphere in our stores.
“We believe that wearing a mask literally adds a barrier to communication — much of which is nonverbal — and promotes a more distant and disconnected environment,” Warnick said. “In balancing these fundamental values while still accommodating the specific circumstances affecting our associates, we have updated our internal guidelines to permit only those associates with a medical need to wear a face mask while working"
Warnick said the change would be effective Aug. 14, where local regulations allow. It does not include the California and Oregon trade areas, which allow for mask use by employees.
The Change.Org petition was started by Gwen Bishop, a resident of Seattle, Wash., who suffers “long COVID,” a spokesperson for the platform said Friday.
"With no cure for long COVID, masking and COVID-19 safety are crucial workers' rights concerns. Businesses must not jeopardize employees' lives," Bishop said in her petition.
Bishop’s petition added: “We implore In-N-Out to reconsider and prioritize employee and customer health. Let us create an inclusive, safe environment where health and livelihood are not in conflict.”
In-N-Out, in the leaked staff memo last week, said the new guidelines were: “No masks shall be worn in the store or support facility unless an associate has a valid medical note exempting him or her from the requirement. Associates who wear masks for medical reasons must wear a company-provided N-95 mask.”
The note to employees added: “Failure to comply with this new policy may result in appropriate disciplinary action, up to an including termination of employment, based on the severity and frequency of the violation.”
Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual Top 500 ranked In-N-Out Burger at No. 43, with 379 units at the end of 2022, a 1.3% increase from the prior year.
Update July 21, 2023: This story has been updated to include comments from In-N-Out's chief operating officer.
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