California forbids plans to unmask In-N-Out workers — and most other workplaces

In-N-Out Burger signage stands outside a restaurant in Costa Mesa, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For at least another year and a half, California employers won't be able to follow In-N-Out's lead in banning workers from wearing masks on the job.

The state's COVID-19 workplace rules protecting workers' rights to decide for themselves whether to wear face coverings are locked in at least until February 2025 and could be extended.

Those regulations prevented the iconic Irvine-based burger chain from applying its new policy prohibiting workers from wearing face masks in its home state, where it operates about 70% of its restaurants.

Instead, In-N-Out's mask ban will apply to workers at its restaurants in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah. It has a total of 116 locations in those states.


In-N-Out Burger announces new mask policy for some employees

In-N-Out Burger has a new mask policy for workers in some states.

In a memo, the company said it wants to "emphasize the importance of customer service. And the ability to show our Associates' smiles and other facial features."

It is allowing employees to wear masks if they present a medical note that "clearly states the reason for the exemption."

In-N-Out released a different masking policy for employees in California and in Oregon that leaves the choice to mask up to each individual worker. That approach complies with California and Oregon standards that provide continuous protections to employees.

In a way, the split is a reminder of California's more cautious response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Democratic state was the first to order its residents to shelter in place and shut down non-essential activity. Throughout the pandemic, state health officials have updated guidelines and rules to adapt to evolving transmission patterns.

In-N-Out went along with those rules during the pandemic, although the company contested local indoor vaccine mandates in the fall of 2021. Its refusal to check customers' vaccination records led to temporary shutdowns of restaurants in San Francisco and in Pleasant Hill of Contra Costa County, according to press reports.

Cal/OSHA, the agency charged with ensuring occupational safety in California, earlier this year updated its COVID-19 requirements. Among them: "Employers must allow employees to wear face coverings if they voluntarily choose to do so, unless it would create a safety hazard."