Like all bar and restaurant owners, Tatia Nelson has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Nelson, who has owned and operated The Busted Nut Bar & Grill in downtown Hastings since 2004, wasn’t expecting the latest blow — a $7,000 fine that was handed down by the state, she says because one of her bartenders was wearing a plastic face shield and not a mask.
Nelson said the Sept. 3 citation levied by the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) came after two of its inspectors visited the Second Street business on Aug. 22. She said the alleged violation, which she’s already contested, is unjust and that the fine is excessive.
“I was completely not expecting it,” she said this week. “I don’t understand it.”
The citation states that the restaurant “failed to enforce COVID-19-related precautions;” however, it does not include what the precautions are. It classifies the alleged violation as “serious.”
James Honerman, the spokesman for Minnesota OSHA, said in an email this week the case involves a referral to the agency regarding “compliance concerning unsafe or unhealthful working conditions.” He declined to comment on specifics because the case is open.
A SHOW OF SUPPORT
Nelson said she has received support — both financial and emotional — from people who side with her. As of Tuesday, a GoFundMe page the restaurant set up has raised more than $12,400 from 196 donors. Any unused funds will be donated to other businesses and charities, Nelson said.
“As a business we have done our absolute best to follow the ever-changing recommendations put forth by the federal and state government,” the GoFundMe page states. “We make every good faith effort to keep our employees and customers safe. We feel that these fines are outrageous and that is an example of government overreach and heavy handedness.”
She said the face shield sat on the bartender’s chin and went above her nose. She said she’s under the impression that it complies with Gov. Tim Walz’s July 25 executive order on face covering requirements.
The executive order requires that all workers wear face coverings at all times. It states that alternatives to masks, such as clear face shields, may be considered for those with health conditions or situations where wearing a mask is not possible.
Recommendations on the Minnesota Department of Health website state that for “optimal protection, the shield should extend below the chin and to the ears, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece.”
Nelson, who serves as president of the Hastings Downtown Business Association, said the last seven months have been “very challenging” for small businesses and that her fine only adds to her unsettling future.
“We were closed for two and a half months, except for takeout,” she said, adding that revenue was “just OK” because they weren’t selling liquor.
She said she was hesitant to set up the GoFundMe page but that she ultimately decided to “to let people know what was happening.” The support has been “overwhelming,” she said.
“We’ve gotten love from a lot of people across the state that I don’t even know,” she said. “I’ve received numerous phone calls every day from people supportive of me for coming out with this. It’s not easy. It’s just stressful running a business, and having to deal with this is a lot.”