Bunnings ‘Karen’ Saga: Is It Legal to Refuse Wearing a Face Mask?

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face mask legal wearing
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Face masks are now mandatory in public for certain areas of Victoria amid a major outbreak in the region. While the science shows it’s an effective way of limiting the risk of coronavirus transmission, there are some in the community that refuse to wear them, citing ambiguous defenses such as right of freedom and human rights. But outside of those regions, can a store refuse entry if you’re not wearing a face mask? Here’s what the law says.

Social media was set alight after a video of a woman refusing to wear a mask in a Bunnings’ store went viral. When staff directed the woman to wear a mask, she refused, stating it was discrimination against her as a woman and a breach of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The woman, referred to as a ‘Karen’, was later arrested and remained combative against police who attempted to explain to her how the law worked.

It’s an unfortunate sight to see given Melbourne is dealing with the largest outbreak in Australia since the pandemic first arrived in the country back in January. Sadly, it’s not an isolated incident, with a number of other videos popping up with similar Karens espousing the same arguments against public mask wearing.

Given the nature of these incidents, it helps to understand how the law works and why wearing a face mask is needed right now. So, let’s dig in.

What does the law say about mandatory face mask wearing?

From 11:59pm Wednesday 22 July 2020, it became mandatory to wear a face covering when in public for those in metropolitan Melbourne or Mitchell Shire, unless you had a good reason not to.

You are permitted to not wear a face mask if you have a medical condition that impairs your ability to wear one, you’re doing “strenuous” exercise or if it affects how you do your job.

Aside from said reasons, being in public spaces means you are required to wear one and not doing so could incur a $200 on-the-spot fine from police officers.

Elsewhere in Victoria, it’s strongly recommended face masks are worn but unlike the rule in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, it is not enforced. Those outside of the area won’t be fined if they’re found not wearing a mask in public.

Mandatory face mask wearing is not enforced anywhere else in Australia but NSW health authorities have recommended people consider wearing them when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Can a store force me to wear a mask?

Inside the face-masking zone, where the above video was allegedly captured, a store can refuse entry if you’re not wearing a mask and don’t have a lawful excuse either.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services site says “for their own and other customer’s safety, a business owner or worker can ask you not to enter until you wear a face covering such as a mask.”

Like the Karen in the video, if someone refuses to put on a mask and proceeds to enter the store despite a refusal, the police can be called in to enforce the situation.

But this can be extended to stores outside of the highlighted zone in Victoria and beyond the pandemic’s end. Under Australian law, private businesses can propose strict entry requirements on anyone hoping to enter a store. For example, certain venues require you to dress to a certain standard or you’ll be refused entry.

The same rule could apply to safety requirements upon entry so you might need to use hand sanitiser and wear a mask in order to access the store. Given it’s private land, you would need to comply with their requests — provided they’re reasonable and not discriminatory — or risk not being allowed to enter.

It’d be tough to refuse a request to wear a face mask given we’re in the middle of a public health crisis.

Should you wear a mask?

Legality aside, the question comes down to quite a simple one — if you’re not legally required to wear a face mask, should you wear one anyway?

Masks have been shown to reduce the transmission of the virus, especially in situations where physical distancing can’t be guaranteed such as on public transport. A new study by researchers from UNSW showed even a single-layered mask was better than none at all and that three-layered cloth masks reduced the spread of droplets considerably.

Melbourne’s deteriorating situation should pose as a lesson to us all — wearing a face mask is a small step to further stop the spread of the virus. It’s not an impenetrable shield but it might be the difference between someone unwittingly infecting another person or not.

The other key lesson here is — don’t be a Karen.

Comments

  • DHHS website seems ambiguous. (Surprise surprise) They can refuse service, but only if the person does not have a legal exception.
    If someone says they have asthma they could refuse to wear a mask. Is the shopkeeper allowed to refuse service or entry?

    • I suppose it is confusing. Probably can’t blame DHHS for that though. There are a range of laws already in place that attempt to ensure people aren’t discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, disability or religion. These haven’t been removed.

      But store owners should have a pretty good understanding of those laws already. The mask laws can just be super-imposed over those.

      If someone has a disability, and the store owner is aware of that disability, and then refuses to let the person do something because of that disability, there may well be a case against the store owner.

      But common sense prevails in most areas of the law. There is always a reasonableness test. Most people will innately understand what is a reasonable excuse for not wearing a mask, and whether or not the person requesting an exemption is being reasonable or not. Courts will generally take this into account.

      The woman listed above does not pass any “reasonableness” test. She’s purposefully attempting to breach a law that exists for the shopowner, and the shopowner’s customers for no real purpose other than to make some stupid political point.

  • I would like to ask a more global question: what is the legal basis for indroduction of the emergency situation in all states? We hear only the voices of the high bureaucrats bit we don’t hear at all voices of the medical and other expert community…

    • The Public Health and Wellbeing Act of 2008 is a law passed by the Parliament of Victoria.

      Section 198 outlines when and how the relevant Minister of the Parliament may declare a state of emergency.

      It provides that a state of emergency called under that Act may be upt to 4 weeks long, and may be extended by further periods of 4 weeks as required.

      A state of emergency may not be in place for longer than 6 months.

      This is Victorian legislation, so other States will have their own laws, probably quite similar.

      You can find a link to the legislation, and an outline of what powers are provided during a State of Emergency here:

      The act also details what powers that state of emergency provides.

      https://justiceconnect.org.au/resources/how-the-victorian-governments-emergency-restrictions-on-coronavirus-covid-19-work/

    • I have to say I am very surprised at your comment…… I don’t know what news you read/watch, but all the news sources I have been looking at have countless numbers of health professionals, from basic GPs to epidemiology experts, talking about wearing face masks for safety.

      In the beginning, even the WHO had kind of “no need to wear masks” approach, but before too long and under the speed in which the virus was spreading, they had a “wear a mak as much and as often as possible” approach since then. They are the “creme of the cream” of scientist experts in every aspect of health from all over the world.

      And as a matter of fact, the “high bureaucrats bit” went against the advice of all the medical and scientific experts for a very long time, and, even now, many “high bureaucrats” are still going against that advice……

      And thus, the numbers keep on going up faster and faster, with the KNOWN infected cases rising by a million around every 4 days………

      The masks can reduce (not stop, but reduce significantly) that rise, probably by quite a lot, according to health professionals assessments, as also they can reduce the spread of the NOT-KNOWN infections from spreading due to a number of unknowingly infected people that have no symptoms.

  • Also what seems to be missed and not highlighted anywhere is their refusal to give their names and address to the police officers when requested claiming they don’t need to however under the crimes act they do, the police only need to belive that you have or are about to commit an offence. That is the police need to belive that the other partys’ belief about the offence is irrelevant.
    Basic identification questions

    In some instances, you are obliged to give Victoria police your name, address and identification (e.g. drivers licence). You must do this if:

    You are pulled over for a traffic offence;
    You are undergoing a breath test;
    You are suspected of or caught committing a crime;
    You may be of help to the police with an investigation; and
    You are in a place that sells alcohol.

    You should ask the police why they want your name and address. The police must tell you the reason for the request and what crime you are suspected of committing.

    It doesn’t matter if you think it is not a crime, hell do I get to stay free if I kill my neighbour and simply refuse to recognise it as a crime…”no he was an enemy combatent”

    • I do think the police were too polite with this example though. By keeping on answering the questions again and again, they are entertaining the Karen (and her husband), and in their own minds proving themselves right (that the police shouldn’t be arresting them).

      After answering the same question three times, the police should have suggested putting away the phone. Karen answers with I have a right, and the cop says “you do, but as I have stated you are now under arrest and I don’t want you to drop your phone when I handcuff you”. I may be being generous with that scenario, but they should have been in handcuffs almost straight away. Take away their argument and put them in the car.

      Similar for the Bunnings people. A manager should have stepped in with “You have been asked to leave three times. You are on private property, for the safety of our customers and staff we now consider you trespassing and we are now calling the police”

      • Businesses try to not give offence and to be forgiving as a general policy. That’s a good general policy but it assumes good faith – and sanity – so it doesn’t always work.

  • * ATTENTION *
    If you or a loved one has been refused entry to a private business for not wearing a mask and you would like to explore legal options to protect your constitutional rights, our law firm is happy to explain just how f**king stupid you are.

    (not OC) 😉

  • Stupid woman. Put your mask and get going. People are dying around you and these people will not even have the energy to go argue around. Once things get better, then we can argue however we want

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