In-N-Out Burger, a popular fast-food chain, will soon ban its employees in five states from wearing masks, emphasizing “the importance of customer service,” according to a new policy.
Starting Aug. 14, In-N-Out employees in those states who want to wear a mask must have a valid medical note “exempting him or her from this requirement,” a company memo said. Those who use masks for medical reasons must wear a company-supplied N95 mask, it says.
The new policy will apply to the chain’s employees in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah.
“Our goal is to continue to provide safe and customer-centric store and support environments that balance two things that In-N-Out is known for – exceptional customer service and unsurpassed standards of health, safety and quality,” the memo said.
Those who do not comply with the new guidelines could possibly be fired.
“We believe this policy will also help to promote clear and effective communication both with our customers and among our partners,” the note states.
The company said employees at locations in Oregon and California who choose or are required to wear a mask must use a company-provided N95 mask. (The company did not go into detail about wearing a company-issued N95 mask versus one purchased by the employee.)
In-N-Out did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment on the new policy.
However, the chain’s memo says the policy will be reviewed periodically to “ensure its effectiveness and compliance” with evolving health guidelines.
Following the news of the new mask policy, many on social media hit back at the fast food chain’s announcement.
Dr. Judy Stone, an infectious disease physician, criticized the new policy, saying in a chirping that it violates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations on COVID-19, and she encouraged followers to contact In-N-Out’s headquarters.
IN a tweetHolly Mancuso called it “a terrible policy,” adding, “Respect your workers enough to let them make their own choices for their health.”
In-N-Out is no stranger to being under fire for pushing back against covid-19 policies.
In 2021, the San Francisco location was temporarily closed by the Department of Public Health for not checking customers’ vaccination records.
The Department of Health told NPR that public health officials had informed In-N-Out several times about the requirement for proof of vaccination, but that the restaurant did not comply.
An In-N-Out restaurant in Pleasant Hill, California, was also closed for refusing to comply with the county’s COVID protocols.
Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement at the time that the San Francisco restaurant posted signage to inform customers of the local vaccination requirements, but did not prevent those without the proper documentation from entering.
“We strongly disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business,” Wensinger said. “This is [a] clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, inappropriate and offensive.”
NPR’s Rachel Treisman contributed to this report.