DURHAM, N.C. — A grocer said Friday she won't require customers to wear face masks for now but will do so if state guidance changes further.


What You Need To Know

The latest guidance from the state health department recommends employers require face masks and/or vaccinations for all employees

Some businesses have gone so far as to require face masks for all customers

A business law expert says any legal action against workplace mask requirements is unlikely to hold up in court


Gov. Roy Cooper's announcement of new mask recommendations on Thursday forced Yvette West to hastily change her in-store mask advisories. She owns Bulldega, a small grocery store in downtown Durham. West immediately told her employees to put their masks back on. On Friday morning, she sent out an email blast to her regular customers to explain the store's latest policy.

Bulldega shift leader Asnaldo Aldama rings up a customer's order Friday morning. Aldama said even when the mask requirement was lifted, carrying a mask with him has become second nature.

“Since the mask mandate was lifted, our employees, if they were vaccinated, didn't have to wear a mask, but they carried a mask in case a customer wanted us to put it back on,” she said. “Now we're having them on full time.”

The N.C. Department of Health & Human Services now recommends employers verify employees' vaccination status and require face coverings, though no mandate is now in place. The decision by some employers to require COVID-19 vaccinations, such as Duke Health, has sparked protests. N.C. Central University Prof. Henry McKoy, who heads the university's entrepreneurship program and is a former state assistant secretary of commerce, said the courts don't have an exact precedent to follow in this situation. Generally speaking, he said the courts tend to rule in favor of health and safety policies meant to protect the group.

“From a private safety standpoint, it's within the right of the employer to actually issue that mandate, and if those two things do not match, then the employee would be free to find employment elsewhere,” he said. “Their individual right wouldn't override the right of that business owner or the greater public health.”

Inventory manager Erika Harrington checks stock. Harrington has severe asthma and is thus especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Some businesses, such as Durham Brewery and record store Hunky Dory, have gone so far as to require masks for everyone, customers as well as employees, regardless of vaccination status. West said she doesn't plan to go that far unless the state orders her to do so. She said part of the reason is the potential backlash it could spark. She is already training her employees on how to handle the situation if a customer becomes angry over wearing a mask.