Beth A. Block
Flu season is upon us. American citizens, including martial arts studio owners and martial arts students, remain divided over masks. Some people have legitimate medical reasons for why they cannot wear a mask; others simply will not wear one.
To minimize liability, I recommend following the guidelines issued by your county, your state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You also need to consider the Americans With Disabilities Act. Walking the tightrope between these two mandates can cause problems for business owners. An issue already has cropped for one of my clients.
A studio owner encountered a parent who claimed not to be able to wear a mask for a medical reason. The owner reminded the parent of the studio’s published policy of mask wearing. The parent threatened to get an attorney involved. The owner came to me for help, and I did some research. If you find yourself in a similar situation, what I learned could be useful to you, too.
First, I’ll review what the ADA requires. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities in places of public accommodations. To comply with the accessibility guidelines, public accommodations must:
Over the years, I’ve helped many clients examine their needs and better understand what reasonable accommodations can be made for a student or parent. For instance, there’s valid case law stating that an individual with asthma or one who’s deaf must be accommodated in your studio. So if you have a deaf student who cannot read lips, you’re responsible for allowing the student’s interpreter to take class at no additional charge. In the studio where I train, there’s a blind student. I always lined up next to him so I could fill him in on the details of a drill if the instructor was using visual cues instead of verbal cues.
Disabilities include physical, mental and emotional conditions. Regardless of your position on the ADA, it’s the law in America. You can find yourself dealing with court orders, complaints to the Attorney General and the cost of the disabled person’s legal representation if you don’t handle the disability accommodation properly in the first place.
In addition to that, we have the new challenge of COVID-19. If you choose to keep your studio open, it’s important to put aside your personal views on the virus and the directions issued by your local and state governments and the CDC. In the case of our studio, for example, if we have more than one person test positive for COVID at the same time, liability can be tied to the studio. This is because, in the eyes of the law, it’s probable that training in our facility caused at least one case. To protect ourselves from a civil lawsuit, it’s essential that we take steps to avoid more than one case at a time. One of those steps is following the CDC recommendation to wear a mask.
Now, back to that scenario of the parent claiming an inability to wear a mask for a medical reason. The owner allows a limited number of parents to watch from inside the studio. As soon as I got the call, I researched the problem. I landed at a website that you can access at bit.ly/ADAFaceMask.
The site explains that it’s completely legal to require the person claiming to have a disability to provide documentation from a doctor specifically stating that the person cannot wear a mask for a medical reason. The site also gives reasonable accommodation options, including allowing the use of a full face shield, allowing the person to wait in a car (for a parent) and offering video calls/training (for a student).
The article then says that a business doesn’t have to make an accommodation for the person with a disability if the accommodation presents a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
The title of this column is “The Best Defense,” which we all know is a good offense. In this case, I believe the best defense is printing a copy of the article that’s linked above. Keep it handy. Give it to your team to read and let them know where to find printed copies. When someone makes a claim about not being able to wear a mask, give a copy to the person. Explain that you know the requirements of the ADA law and that you’re prepared with a great defense. Don’t forget to document the conversation with that person. Include the student/parent’s name, the date and time, the identity of your team member and the fact that you gave the person a copy of the article.
That is the best defense in situations like this.
To contact Beth A. Block, send an email to [email protected] or call (800) 225-0863.
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