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Utah business owners full of questions about statewide mask mandate

Posted at 8:27 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 23:51:10-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The new state-issued COVID-19 guidelines include mask mandates for businesses, and the Utah Labor Commission says they have received a lot of calls from business owners in the last couple of days about the new rules.

"The phone has been ringing!" Said Eric Olsen, spokesperson for the commission. "We have a lot of questions, a lot of calls, a lot of people wondering exactly about what the rule is."

Specifically, people are calling in about the mask mandate for businesses. Olsen said businesses are in charge of making sure all staff is wearing a mask while working.

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"If you are an employer, you need to have your employees masked up," he said. "If you are an employee, you need to be masked up because it's now a law, a rule that will be enforced by Utah OSHA."

He added that the Labor Commission, the organization in charge of Utah Occupational Safety and Health (UOSH), will enforce the rule as they do any other workplace safety standard.

"We'll respond to complaints of various kinds, and referrals accordingly," he said. "Violations will be cited."

Businesses who violate the new order will be fined on a case-by-case basis.

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"If that's what they want to risk, then that's what's on the table," Olsen added.

According to the Utah Department of Health, there have been 7,411 workplace COVID-19 cases so far. With the majority coming from warehouse and manufacturing facilities like the JBS meatpacking plant in Hyrum, The Nestle Stouffers plant in Springville, and the Amazon fulfillment facility in Salt Lake City.

And in Salt Lake County alone, there have been 5,314 workplace cases, and the focus is also on the manufacturing and warehouse industries where workers spend the majority of their day indoors.

Olsen says one of the major problems the commission has seen with workplaces, is employees going into work even if they are sick. He cited financial hardships during the pandemic as one reason they may feel the need to continue working.

To help with the issue, the Labor Commission has created the "small business quarantined employee grant" to pay employers back any money paid out to quarantined, or sick staff members.

"It's one more thing to try to keep people home when they're sick and have them not have to worry about 'I can't afford this' because that's driving people to sometimes to go to work even when they don't feel well and they should be staying home," Olsen said.

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He added that employees or patrons of any business can report mask mandate violations directly to the Utah Labor Commission, and said employees who fear retribution can file the complaint anonymously.