Masks were made mandatory in all public and retail spaces Nov. 19, and for the past seven weeks, reports of hostile behaviour directed at retail workers and restaurant employees have made headlines.
Several incidents were reported from Kelowna and Penticton of employees being yelled at or spit on in the wake of the mandatory mask provincial health orders. In some cases, individuals were even arrested for not abiding by the order.
But now, an Armstrong waitress is hoping to spread awareness about COVID-19 safety concerns in her line of work after a customer allegedly caused a disturbance while making a takeout order while refusing to wear a mask.
The waitress — referred to only as K; her name withheld out of concern of backlash — shared her story of the encounter on social media.
Around 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5, K said a customer called to put in a food order but at the end of the order, the person said, “I do not wear a mask.”
K said she informed the customer of the restaurant’s required mask policy and asked if they had medical documentation exempting them from wearing masks. In response, the customer threatened legal action.
“I did not ask to see this document, nor did I ask the details of it. I only asked if they had it,” K said. “At that point, the conversation turned aggressive and I was demanded my full name because they were going to sue me for $30,000 and my establishment.”
Individuals with health conditions or impairments, who can’t remove a mask themselves or children under the age of 12 are exempt from the mandatory mask requirement, according to the province.
Those who refuse to comply with the order, the direction of an enforcement officer or engage in abusive or belligerent behaviour are subject to a $230 fine.
For K, it was an affirmation that these sorts of incidents reported from larger centres can happen anywhere.
“I went to the kitchen crying and shaking. I had heard of these kinds of COVID interactions but had yet to experience one,” she said.
K, who was the only one working at the time, sought out support from her boss who “graciously complied.” The customer who placed the order was called back and informed of the restaurant’s straightforward mask-wearing policy: no mask, no admittance to the building.
This too was met with a confrontational response, she said.
“They kept telling me what I was doing was unconstitutional and they would sue me and my establishment,” she alleged, adding she compromised and said she would arrange a contactless pickup option outside.
But, the situation reached its peak when the individual came to pick up the order when the customer entered the restaurant and allegedly tacked documents to the walls, K said.
“I was frightened about how this would escalate while maintaining positive customer relations,” she said. “Fortunately, they left it there.”
Though shaken by the encounter, K said she wanted to use it as an opportunity to explain to people what working in a restaurant during a pandemic entails.
“I have to treat every single person who walks through the door as if they have COVID. That means I do not touch a glass, a plate, a chopstick without sanitizing. That means I do not take your menu away without washing my hands. It means I notice every sneeze, every cough, every throaty laugh and think of the possible area that could infect,” she said.
To those who self-identify as ‘anti-mask’ or the like, K says she understands the frustration around rapidly changing restrictions or COVID-19 misinformation,
“But, the person bagging your groceries, the person selling your insurance and the person serving your sushi are not responsible for it,” she said.