Sunday, August 02, 2020

Did the shop owner risk a customer's safety?

After six months, J.K., a reader in Massachusetts, finally broke down and scheduled a haircut at the salon where he had been getting his hair cut for at least the past five years. As Massachusetts entered step 2 of Phase 2, on June 22, hair salons which had been closed during the pandemic began to open their doors to customers but with clear guidelines about safety standards. 

Customers were asked to make an appointment rather than walking in. Wait areas were to be closed and customers would be requested to wait outside or in their cars until their appointment time. Face masks were required for hairdressers and customers and hairdressers were to wear gloves while cutting hair.

J.K. had been working remotely at home since mid-March and had kept his contact with others to a minimum. Nevertheless, he was feeling quite shaggy and decided to call and make an appointment. His stylist assured him that she had incorporated procedures to keep her customers and herself as safe as possible.

Assured that she would be the only person allowed into the salon while his hair was being cut, J.K. made the appointment. On the day of his cut, he waited outside until his appointment time and then peeked inside the salon door where he saw all the chairs empty. It was only after he stepped in the door that he noticed another customer at the register (now separated by plexiglass from the customer) paying for her cut.

"I was disappointed that the owner hadn't made sure that no one else came in until the previous customer came out," writes J.K.

J.K. writes that the salon owner, the prior customer, and he were all wearing masks and the distance from the door to the register was more than six feet, the standard distance called for in social distancing. Nevertheless, he writes that he feels betrayed by the owner's assurances that she had established safe protocols for her newly opened salon.

"Wasn't it her responsibility to make sure I didn't walk in while the person before me was still in there?" asks J.K.

I appreciate J.K.'s concern. As everyone navigates his, her, or their way around the pandemic it is entirely reasonable for each of us to honor however careful or distant another person wants to be to feel safe. J.K. has not infringed on anyone else's rights over the past six months. He has, however, avoided putting himself in situations where he might find himself too close to a crowd or even other people.

But J.K. had a simple solution to his concern. As soon as he poked his head in the door and saw another customer in the salon - more than six feet away from him - the right thing for him to do was to turn around and continue to wait outside if he was concerned about his safety. The salon owner had done the work of making her salon as safe as she could. She was masked and gloved up. She only had one stylist working at a time. She was even taking the temperatures of customers as they entered the salon.

That J.K. happened to enter a bit too early may have felt unfortunate, but it was simple enough for him to make things right. And then to tip his stylist well.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin

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