Legal expert says businesses have right to deny service to people not wearing masks

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT)- Face masks becoming the new norm as Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois move to open up businesses and governors ask people to cover their faces. But what do you do when a customer refuses to wear one?

An incident in one Michigan store when the clerk asked a man to put on a mask. He turned, walked to her, and wiped his face on her shirt. That man was later arrested.

So can Tri-State stores legally refuse service to customers who don’t wear masks?

“Protecting your fellow Americans by wearing a face-covering in public is a collective act of patriotism,” Governor JB Pritzker explains.

That’s the plea Illinois Governor JB Pritzker made in his Wednesday address to the state saying covering your face can save lives in the state.

“At this time face coverings are required in public situations where social distance cannot be maintained and that applies only to those that are medically able to wear a mask,” Pritzker continues.

Social situations that could mean going to the grocery store. Chains like Schnucks, Menards, and Costco have asked customers to wear masks while they shop.

But does a store have the legal right to enforce this and refuse service to someone for not? Local attorney Jonathan Danks says, in his expert opinion, yes.

“As a business owner you have a general right to conduct your business as you see fit,” Danks says.

But he says this doesn’t apply in every situation, “Indiana has a bill of rights which specifically list different classes of people that you can’t discriminate.”

That’s gender- race and religion.

The request for face coverings expands much farther than just the big chain stores. Gehlhausen in Evansville is also asking customers to wear a mask or some sort of face covering and practice social distancing that way they keep fellow customers in the staff safe.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear have not required people to wear masks in public. But would they be allowed to?

“Once there’s an emergency declaration it really opens up a lot of broad powers for the executive branch of the government. In this case the governor’s office. And so I believe that the governor would have that power, it’s probably more of a political question on whether he would decide to do it or not,” Danks explains.

He says, stay tuned because this topic will likely prompt some interesting legal cases in the future.

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(This story was originally published on May 6, 2020)

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