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Snohomish County nursery bans masks for staff during the coronavirus pandemic

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is investigating Flower World after the agency received complaints.

MALTBY, Wash. — John Postema, owner of Flower World, a nursery in Maltby, has made it clear that his employees aren't allowed to wear facial coverings, despite a state requirement.

“We said, ‘Look, you cannot use those masks anymore because you contaminate everything. You touch it, you take it off,’ It’s a very small protection for yourself,” Postema said.

Flower World is now under investigation by the state after Postema banned his employees from wearing masks.

The state has required facial coverings at workplaces since June 8 as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. And starting this Friday, masks or other facial coverings will be required for anyone in public.  

But Postema believes that masks cause more harm than good. It can reach over 100 degrees in the greenhouses on Flower World’s property, and he said wearing a mask makes it hard to breathe.

He also said he noticed his employees touching their faces more often while wearing masks and he worries this could put them more at risk of catching the virus than if they don’t wear a mask at all.

“If they really are contaminated, they would contaminate their hands, they would contaminate anything else, any tools or wheelbarrows or anything else. We would not be providing a safe environment and that’s why we said no,” he explained.

Postema sent out an email to his customers explaining the ban on face coverings.

“It is neither fair nor healthy for our employees to wear a mask for 8 hours in the potential for 80-90 degree temperatures,” the email said.

Postema caught flak for the decision, some from customers.

“I was shocked to get this email and even more shocked that it wasn’t a choice for the employees, but it was told to them that they could not wear masks,” Flower World customer Clay Borella told KING 5.

Postema said if it bothers customers, they can take their business elsewhere.

“It’s a matter of safety for our employees. That kind of thing has to be recognized and if people don’t like that, that’s fine,” he said.

Flower World’s ‘no mask’ policy prompted an investigation by Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. L&I says it has received several complaints about Flower World's policy.

“Right now, in Washington State, you are required to wear a mask at a worksite unless you are working alone or you have some type of medical disability,” said Tim Church, the director of communications for L&I. “This measure is in place so people can go to work and have a much less chance of being infected by someone else at work or infecting someone else. So, we take this very seriously. It is a serious workplace safety and health requirement just like any other one.”

If the Department of Labor and Industries finds that Flower World put their employee’s health and safety at risk, they can be cited and fine.

Postema has made other changes to the way the nursery operates to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These changes include adding Plexiglas at cash registers, sanitizing carts between uses, telling people to maintain six feet of distance, and requiring employees to wash their hands 12 times a day.

But on the mask issue, he won't budge.

“Just because the governor says so, that doesn’t mean anything to me.”

After Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that masks are required for everyone in the state, Postema said he is sticking with his "no mask" policy.

“We have acres out here. We can do six feet of social distancing. So, we will keep it how it is,” he said.

RELATED: Washington state requires face masks in public starting Friday

RELATED: New face mask requirement for workers begins Monday in Washington state