Two former Kush 21 employees no longer work at the Pullman store after speaking out against its former policy to allow customers to shop without wearing masks.
Matthew Riley, a former assistant general manager, said he was demoted and then fired last week after he voiced his concerns about the retail marijuana store’s policy. Sarah Wiscarson, a Kush 21 employee, said she quit last week when she found out Riley would no longer be with the company.
Riley said he tried to enforce Washington’s statewide mask mandate the day after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the order June 26. The order requires people to wear a facial covering in public spaces, including indoors.
Riley said he was informed June 28 by the owner and general manager the store will not require customers to wear masks. Riley said he refused to open the store that day because he was concerned for the safety of the employees and customers.
“I don’t think a safe work environment is something we’re not entitled to,” Riley told the Daily News.
Riley said after conversations with the general manager and owner, he was first demoted to shift leader, and then later fired by Kush 21. Riley has worked at Kush 21 since 2018.
“It just feels like bullies taking advantage of people who can’t say anything,” he said of ownership.
Michale Beraki, who owns the four Kush 21 stores in Washington including the one in Pullman, said last week all employees were required to wear a mask and customers were encouraged to wear them.
Beraki said the store did not require customers to wear them because doing so leads to “unnecessary altercations” with customers who do not want to wear a covering. One such altercation happened at the Sea-Tac Kush 21 store, and Beraki said he did not want staff to get into fights with customers about the issue.
“We’ll make sure we do what we can control,” he said.
On Monday, Beraki said store policies have changed in response to a new order from Inslee.Inslee on Thursday announced an order prohibiting businesses from serving customers that do not wear face coverings.
Beraki said Kush 21 stores are complying with this new mandate and will provide masks to customers who do not have one.
As for Riley, Beraki said he was not in charge of implementing policies when he worked there. Beraki pointed out there have been customer complaints made against Riley. Beraki said Riley is attempting to harm the reputation of the business.
Riley said he was informed of those recent complaints, but does not know any details about what the complaints said.
Wiscarson, who said she was hired at Kush 21 last fall, said she quit after finding out Riley was no longer going to be with the company.
“I knew there was no longer a loud enough voice to advocate for the staff at the store,” she said.
Wiscarson shared his concerns about the store’s lenient policies on masks and the safety of her coworkers.
She said her concerns stem back earlier in the pandemic. She said the store was having trouble limiting the number of customers in the store, that it did not have enough personal protective equipment available and she felt there was not being enough done to ensure social distancing.
Wiscarson said she was told she could not refuse service to anyone even if they are failing to follow social distancing guidelines.
When it comes to masks, Wiscarson said a “reasonable percentage” of customers wore them but some did not.
Riley said he is happier knowing the employees will be safer now that customers are required to wear masks.
Riley is still unemployed, but he has no regrets about voicing his opinion.
“I think it was time to move on,” he said.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at email@example.com.