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'This Is Not OK': Former Employees At Hadley, Mass., Restaurant Say Mask Rules Ignored

A sign on the door of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Hadley, Mass., asks customers to wear masks.
Alden Bourne
/
NEPR
A sign on the door of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Hadley, Mass., asks customers to wear masks.

An employee of a Hadley, Massachusetts, hamburger shop said she lost her job after telling customers they needed to wear masks because of the coronavirus.

That claim is denied by the restaurant, but two other former employees are also criticizing the company’s lax attitude about masks.

This week, Massachusetts started allowing restaurant customers to eat inside with no masks on if they are seated at a table. But in May, those same customers could only enter to pick up food, and — under a state order covering retail operations — had to wear face coverings. 

A former shift manager at Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Hadley, Aisha Hiza, said after she told a customer they needed to wear a mask, the franchise owner, Jason Nance, talked to her.

“He pulled me aside and he was like, ‘We’re not going to be doing that. Please don’t do that.’”

'We should never refuse guests'

Supervisors were directed to take a “polite” approach with customers who don’t have masks, according to a May 27 “written warning” Hiza shared with NEPR.

It said a family visiting the restaurant had complained that employees were “screeching” about them not wearing masks.

“We should be welcoming of ALL our guests. We can politely ask if they have a facemask to please wear it. If they do not, we should politely ask they adhere to social distancing protocol,” the warning read. “We could even suggest after taking their order that we will gladly bring their order to them outside for theirs and our safety. We should never refuse guests.”

Hiza was fired, supposedly for showing up late, she said. She acknowledged she did occasionally come late, but said that was not uncommon at the restaurant. Hiza said she believes she actually lost her job for speaking out about masks.

“I would voice my concern like being like, 'I don’t want to take this home to my kid,'” she said. “I also continued to ask people to please have their masks on.”

Company says it followed all rules

Nance, whose company runs more than a dozen Five Guys franchises according to its Facebook profile, declined our request for an interview. 

A spokeswoman for Five Guys Hadley, Heather Flater, insisted the restaurant has never discouraged employees from asking customers to wear masks, and said no employee was fired for doing so.

Flater said all state mandates were followed, including the prohibition on customers eating inside, noting that “chairs and tables inside were stacked up making it impossible for any customers to eat in our dining room.”

But Nick Sandoval, who also worked at Five Guys, said some customers were allowed to eat inside.

“I was saying like, ‘Hey, this is not okay, my mother has lupus, this is not okay. I’m not going to work in this environment,’” Sandoval said.

Sandoval said he reported the restaurant to the local and state health departments – and quit the job a few weeks ago.

Patricia Forgie also quit her job at Five Guys Hadley, last month.

“I was told not to turn away business, masks or not,” Forgie said.

Forgie said she tried to explain to a manager why it was important for customers to have face coverings.

“’If I have to go to Walmart and wear a mask, why do my customers not have to wear a mask?’” Forgie said she asked.

'Kind of didn't directly answer the question'

The Hadley Board of Health conducted a surprise inspection at Five Guys late last month after receiving complaints from employees — and also customers — about masks not being worn.

Emma Dragon, who chairs the board, said she didn’t see customers without masks that day, but she asked management whether they’d been allowing it. 

“They said that they had a policy where customers had to wear masks, but they kind of didn’t directly answer the question,” Dragon said in an interview Wednesday.

Dragon said one issue she did address with the restaurant was the use of a self-serve soda machine.

“At this time, there’s no self-service for any food and beverage services, whether it be a salad bar or a push-button soda dispensing machine,” she said.

Dragon said she and her two colleagues on the board have received numerous complaints in the past few months about a lack of masks inside Hadley businesses.

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