Plant nursery in Snohomish County under state investigation for employee mask ban

Flower World in Maltby is known as one of the “largest plant nurseries of its kind on the west coast,” according to its website.

Now it's receiving the attention of state investigators for claims of breaking employee face mask requirements of the Safe Start Washington plan.

“No one should have to put their life and health at risk to go to work and get a paycheck. That should not happen,” said Tim Church, director of communications for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

John Postema, owner of Flower World, provided Q13 News a copy of a letter sent to employees, dated June 3rd. Labor and Industries’ Public Records office also provided a picture of the letter.  It lists a number of health concerns about employees wearing masks, stating it could “be a source for infection” if it’s not worn or handled properly.

The letter continues, stating management came to the conclusion masks are “an inherent danger to the wearer. Therefore, Flower World employees cannot wear masks.”

Church said the state is now investigating the plant nursery’s mask policy as a possible violation.

“The governor put out an order that said everybody in workplaces has to wear a mask, unless they are working alone or they have a physical disability,” said Church.

“Because there is a workplace rule out there right now that requires workplaces to have their employees wear masks, if that’s being violated, we can look into it as a workplace safety and health hazard.”

Postema confirmed one employee felt uncomfortable about the mask policy and quit after the letter was sent out. An inspector visited the plant nursery on June 15th to interview staff and management after receiving a complaint.

Postema said Flower World, which was deemed an essential business, is providing a safe and healthy environment for the team throughout all 15 acres of the nursery.

The safety measures include sanitizing shopping carts and other surfaces in between use, marking unsanitary carts with black and yellow caution tape, using acrylic shields in place where social distance is not possible and insisting employees wash their hands 12 times per day.

“It should be noted and realized that the recommendations and guidelines of the governor have a different objective than what is required of the employer. This has not been recognized by Labor and Industries to the point that their recommendations are counter to the long-standing requirements that the Employer provides a safe and healthy workplace for its employees. The objective of the governor is to protect the general public. When these goals are conflicting with each other it is the Employers responsibility to follow the law. The established law is clear: Protect the employee. The governor’s recommendation and guidelines, which over time have changed and have not been based on established laws, but merely on guess work. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the employer to figure out how to protect his employees. It is quite clear that recommendation and guidelines have been changing and still will be changing in the month ahead,” wrote Postema, in a statement.

“Violations related to coronavirus are no different than any other safety and health violations that somebody might have at work. There are requirements to make sure we’re all safe. And if they’re not being followed, people’s health and safety is at risk,” said Church.

An inspector is continuing the investigation to determine the next steps. If a violation is detected, Church said Flower World could be cited and fined.

“Our first goal is not to cite and fine people. It’s to have businesses do the right thing. And so, when we have any inkling a business doesn’t know the right thing to do, we’re out there working hard to make sure they do know the right thing to do,” said Church.

The Department of Labor and Industries offers consultations with inspectors. Businesses can request a consultation if they aren’t sure if they’re compliant with the Safe Start Washington plan. An inspector can suggest adjustments to help the business get up to code and prevent a violation.

Flower World letter to staff