Is there such a thing as “mask-exempt” status for employees?
DATELINE—SACRAMENTO, CALIF.—(July 23, 2021): Apparently, it’s legal for employers to insist that employees submit to facemasking on the job. But what about employees with medical conditions? Do qualified employees have a right to be medically exempt from mask mandates in the workplace?
RALEY’S GROCERY STORE LAWSUIT
This is the story of four brave ladies who work for Raley’s — a grocery store chain in Northern Calif. These four ladies are now suing Raley’s.
These four ladies contend they are mask-exempt — meaning “exempt” from the store’s general facemasking requirements. These ladies believe they are free to go mask-less while working in the grocery store. And what exactly exempts them from the general mask mandate? —doctor’s notes. Each of the four ladies has doctors’ notes which indicate the ladies have medical conditions that facemasking exacerbates.
Is Raley’s legally required to recognize the employees’ doctors’ notes? Must Raley’s recognize their claims of mask-exempt status? Or, is Raley’s free to ignore the employees’ so-called “exempt” status — and send the employees home?
It all started with the pandemic frenzy — when the Governor issued a general facemasking order for all California employees working in places of public accommodations.
The four ladies went along with the facemasking mandate. They donned facemasks while working in the store. But they soon developed severe health issues related to facemasking. They sought medical advice from licensed physicians who issued doctors’ notes exempting them from general facemasking requirements.
RALEY’S ACCEPTS the DOCTORS’ NOTES
The ladies presented their doctors’ notes to Raley’s mgmt., who classified the ladies as “mask-exempt.” For approx. 8 months, they worked in Raley’s grocery store, with no facemasks, carefully observing the 6-foot rule, all the while in the presence of customers. Notably, Raley’s accepted their doctor’s notes for a substantial time period — approx. 8 months. During this period, the ladies worked totally un-masked and un-afraid.
And then one day in mid-December 2020, when contagion hysteria was running high, Raley’s told the ladies they would no longer accommodate their medical exemptions! Raley’s would no longer recognize their doctors’ notes. But wait — can Raley’s ignore their mask-exempt status?
LEAVE of ABSENCE
Just before Christmas, 2020, Raley’s put the four ladies on leave of absence. (Was Raley’s going to fire them?) And then, after two weeks’ anxiously waiting, Raley’s told the ladies they would accommodate their medical exemptions — but only on Raley’s terms…
Raley’s insisted the ladies must work graveyard shift only — when the store is closed — away from customers — and with less work hours — which means a pay cut. But the ladies argue that the “graveyard shift” is NOT a reasonable accommodation for their medical conditions. And that’s why they’re suing Raley’s.
According to attorney, T. Matthew Phillips, “Graveyard shift is not a reasonable accommodation for my clients’ medical exemptions.” Phillips represents the four Plaintiffs. “Raley’s violates the law by refusing to recognize legit doctors’ notes from legit physicians.”
RALEY’S SIDE of the STORY
According to Raley’s, the law requires that all employees must submit to facemasking—no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” Raley’s believes that employers may freely ignore employees’ doctors’ notes. Raley’s argues there is no such thing as “mask-exempt” status for employees. But this is not the law.
Remarkably, Raley’s argues that the “duty to wear a mask” is part of the employee’s “job description” — and, if any employee cannot follow his or her “job description” — which includes wearing a mask — then those employees will be sent home or relegated to graveyard shift. Welcome to Raley’s World.
Raley’s further argues that Plaintiffs are unreasonable — for refusing to wear face shields, which Raley’s offered as a so-called alternative to facemasks. Raley’s contends that, if Plaintiffs cannot submit to facemasking, then they must instead submit to faceshielding.
ALL FACE COVERINGS
Plaintiffs argue that their doctors’ notes exempt them, not only from facemasks, but from face shields as well. Plaintiffs argue that their doctor’s notes extend to all face coverings, (e.g., cotton, plexiglass, or polypropylene, etc.). Plaintiffs obey doctors’ orders — which means no face coverings while on the job.
Plaintiff #1 stated: “I have worked at Raley’s for 32 years. And you refuse to recognize my doctors’ note? How dare you!”
Plaintiff #2 asked, “Why did I get stuck working graveyard shift? Where in Newsom’s mandate does it say that mask-exempt employees must work graveyard only? Nowhere, that’s where! Raley’s discriminates against me because of my medical condition.”
Plaintiff #3 stated: “Raley’s said we can’t work in the presence of customers, however, for the first six months of the pandemic, we were around customers daily, with no masks, and it was no big deal.”
Plaintiff #4 added: “Raley’s is wrong for refusing to accept my medical exemption. That’s discrimination right there. Wearing a mask is NOT in my job description. I have a right to be medically exempt.”
Attorney, T. Matthew Phillips, added, “Raley’s banished my clients to graveyard shift — as a means of punishment and retaliation — for my clients exercising their lawfully protected right to be medically exempt. We will have our day in court!”
MOTION to DISMISS
Raley’s filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. That motion is now pending. Stay tuned!
Produced and Directed by TMP’s Midnight Minions
in association with Chapter Eleven Productions,
Fly-By-Night Management Services, and
Neurotica Entertainment Group
Copyright 2021 – by T. Matthew Phillips, Esq.
“Freedom means nothing if you can’t keep
the government out of your body.”
~ T. Matthew Phillips, Esq. ~