(TMU) – People who lash out at employees trying to enforce company policies requiring masks and physical distancing could face felony charges under a new law passed by the state of Illinois.
Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker passed SB 471 that enhances penalties against anyone who assaults a worker who is “conveying public health guidance,” or urging customers to wear protective face coverings or follow social distancing rules.
Under the new law, which went into effect immediately, those who assault or batter retail workers will face aggravated battery – which is usually a felony.
In a press release from the governor’s office, the new aggravated battery rule was presented as building on the state’s efforts to protect communities and frontline workers from the still-raging pandemic.
“This provision sends the message that it’s vitally important for workers to be both respected and protected while serving on the front lines,” the governor’s office said in a statement on the new law.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued official health guidance urging U.S. residents to always wear a cloth face mask in public in lieu of or in addition to physical distancing measures meant to mitigate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the advice – and numerous studies showing how face coverings are a simple way to help prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 – a spate of violent disturbances have broken out across the country, with angry customers throwing tantrums, violently resisting mask rules and assaulting retail workers or fellow shoppers.
A recent nationwide survey of 4,187 McDonald’s workers by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) found that 44 percent of respondents said they have been verbally or physically assaulted after confronting customers who weren’t wearing masks, reports Business Insider.
Earlier this month, a woman in New Jersey attacked another customer who urged her to cover her nose and mouth with her mask.
Last month in Washington, a man pulled his gun on another customer who asked him to wear a face mask.
In another July incident, a woman in Oklahoma hurled boxes of shoes at employees in a Skechers store after she was informed several times that she must wear a mask.
So this happened at work today…🙄 stupid Karens. All we wanted was for her to wear a mask lol I hope this lady is embarrassed of herself and her actions.
Posted by Myah Joycelynn on Wednesday, July 8, 2020
In May, a man shopping at a Target store in Los Angeles broke an employee’s arm during an argument over mask rules.
While in June, video spread showing an angry Florida man fighting his way into a Walmart in Orlando after workers informed him that he couldn’t enter the store without a mask. The man allegedly bit one of the workers.
— Cali_CoCo (@CaliCoCo3) June 20, 2020
Dozens of other videos have also emerged online of customers angrily accosting, threatening or assaulting customers and workers over the issue of masks, including in Illinois.
“Our essential workers put their lives at risk for us to stay safe, and it is clear that we have to continue to do better to protect working-class people with a renewed commitment to providing basic rights for everyone,” said Democratic State Senator and Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford.
Illinois has required residents who leave their homes to wear masks since May, and businesses that refuse to comply with mask requirements also face fines of anywhere between $75 and $2,500. The state also passed a new rule imposing fines on businesses, schools, and child care establishments that ignore mandates on face coverings and limits on the size of gatherings.
On Sunday, Pritzker held a press conference where he was accompanied by Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who urged lawmakers to back the governor’s push for mask compliance measures.
“We’re dealing with a deadly virus,” Ezike said. “7,636 individuals have lost their fight with COVID. That’s a cold hard fact. If there’s any debate about that, ask the doctors and the nurses that fought to try to save them. Ask their grieving loved ones.”
“We’ve learned that wearing a face covering will help reduce the spread of the virus,” Ezike added. “Is it 100 percent effective at stopping the spread? No. But will it help? It absolutely will.”