MALTBY — A plant nursery whose owner forbade employees from wearing masks has been fined $4,200 for failing to ensure a safe workplace and potentially exposing workers to the coronavirus.
Flower World was cited for a “serious” violation by the state Department of Labor and Industries following an investigation begun when employees were told they could not wear masks — even though Gov. Jay Inslee had mandated face coverings be worn in workplaces to combat the spread of the potentially deadly virus.
Inspectors, who visited the Maltby business three times between June 15 and 26, found the firm did not make sure workers, at all times, maintained 6-foot social distancing and wore masks or face coverings, and it did not conduct temperature checks of employees at the start of each workday.
“On at least one occasion our inspector saw multiple workers without face coverings and failing to maintain six-foot social distancing, including three employees who were less than one foot apart,” agency spokesman Tim Church said in an email.
They also obtained a flyer distributed to workers saying neither employees nor customers would be required to wear masks, he said.
Flower World received the “citation and notice” late last week. It has 15 days to appeal.
“Flower World has told us they plan to comply, and we have been on site once and verified they are following the rules,” Church said.
Owner John Postema could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Flower World employees received a letter with their paychecks in early June saying they weren’t allowed to wear masks. Postema told the Herald then that he believed masks would be a hazard for his employees, rather than keeping them safe.
His actions defied guidance issued by Inslee on May 28 directing all workers, with a few exceptions, wear cloth facial coverings on the job. That directive also required employers supply any needed personal protective equipment for their employees, including face masks.
After a Herald article reported the state was investigating, Postema explained his justification of the no-mask rule to customers in a June 22 newsletter.
“We have concluded it is neither fair nor healthy for our employees to wear a mask for 8 hours in potential 80-90 degree temperatures,” it read.
The next day Inslee expanded the mask mandate, requiring everyone wear a face covering in any indoor or outdoor public setting.
Postema told the Herald in June that he planned to challenge the legality of the mask mandate “based on the rational(e) that face masks do not protect our employees and is in conflict with” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dospueblos.