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Trader Joe's employee goes viral after saying he was fired for asking his CEO to ban customers who refuse to wear masks. The store says not so fast.


Former New York City location employee says he encouraged CEO to improve air filtration, require masks in store

Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images

A Trader Joe's employee says the company fired him after he reached out to the company's CEO calling for stricter COVID-19 safety protocols in his store, including banning customers who repeatedly refused to wear masks inside the company's store.

What are the details?

According to a CNN report, Ben Bonnema, who worked at a New York City Trader Joe's location, said that he wrote an email to company CEO Dan Bane on Feb. 26 urging him to improve the store's air filtration system, refuse entry to anyone without a mask, and implement a "three strikes" policy for customers who are repeat offenders of the mask rule.

A portion of Bonnema's email read, "I was recently shouted and sworn at by a customer who would not wear his mask above his nose, despite [Trader Joe's employees] already asking him to do so. He was allowed to finish his shopping and check out."

He added, "The ADA requires that we offer reasonable accommodation, which we do by offering to shop for them. If they refuse, we should not let them in."

Elsewhere in the email — which he shared on Twitter — Bonnema said, "We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work. Please, show up for us by adopting these policies."

He also said that the company ought to be following health experts' advice — such as those at the Centers for Disease Control — on tamping down the risk of COVID-19 spread inside its stores.

"We should be following the guidelines of scientists who study respiratory transmission," Bonnema's message added.

He also shared what he said was his termination letter on social media.

A portion of the letter read, "In a recent email, you suggest adopting a '3 strike policy' against customers and a policy enforcing the same accommodations for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask. These suggestions are not in line with our core Values. In addition, you state that Trader Joe's is not 'showing up for us' without adopting your policies."

The message added, "It is clear that you do not understand our values. As a result, we are no longer comfortable having you work for Trader Joe's."

What has the company said?

Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson for the company, told CNN that there was "misinformation" surrounding Bonnema's firing.

"Store leadership terminated this Crew Member's employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers," Friend-Daniel insisted. "We have never, and would never, terminate a Crew Member's employment for raising safety concerns. We encourage all Crew Members to take an active role in store safety, and share their suggestions with leadership."

Friend-Daniel also told BuzzFeed News that Bonnema worked at the store for just a short time.

"Nothing is more important at Trader Joe's than the safety of our crew members and customers," she said. "During his short tenure with Trader Joe's, this crew member's suggestions were listened to, and appropriately addressed. Store leadership terminated this Crew Member's employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers."

The outlet reported that Benjamin Dictor, a lawyer representing Bonnema, said that he and his client were looking to obtain an order from the National Labor Relations Board demanding Bonnema's "immediate reinstatement."

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Dictor said, "Mr. Bonnema's spotless employment record with the company is only further evidence that the company's decision to terminate him from his employment was an unlawful attempt to threaten, restrain and coerce Mr. Bonnema and his coworkers from engaging in protected concerted activity. Mr. Bonnema has a federally-protected right to advocate for the workplace safety of his colleagues. Terminating him for doing so is reprehensible."

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