It looks like the face mask thing isn't going away for a while. One of the biggest questions I get from employers is “Can I mandate that employees wear face masks?”
Then one of the biggest questions, I get from employees is “Can my employer make me wear a face mask?”
Can employers mandate their employees to wear face masks?
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, we've dealt with a lot of conflicting information and guidance. One of those areas where the guidance has been the most confusing has been with face masks.
We've learned a lot about the virus since then and the overwhelming evidence is that wearing face masks helps to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Most of us don't like wearing face masks and are looking forward to the day when wearing one of these is no longer a day-to-day thing. But unfortunately, today is not that day.
Today's the day we answer the question of whether or not employers can mandate that employees wear face masks.
Here is your answer. According to OSHA's General Duty Clause:
“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
We know that the coronavirus can cause serious physical, harm up to, and including, death. So, it's up to your employer to take the steps necessary to reduce the spread of infection at the workplace. That can be up to, and including, personal protective equipment or PPE.
As with any PPE, employers are responsible for conducting a hazard assessment and providing PPE necessary to keep employees safe. That can include face masks, just like it would include any other PPE like hard hats, gloves, or respirators. It's all in the same general category.
Along with that, most states follow what's known as the At-Will Employment Doctrine which means that employees can actually be terminated for not following company policies and procedures. The only exception to that is if those procedures are illegal or hazardous.
So, yes, employers can mandate the use of face masks.
Important Tips for Employees
If you're an employee who is concerned about wearing a face mask at work, there are two cases where you could reasonably refuse to wear a face mask:
#1 If wearing the mask actually interferes with you doing your job.
Think of things like if wearing the mask causes your safety glasses to steam up, making it harder for you to do work, which by the way, if that is the case, we've got a solution for that.
If the mask does somehow interfere with your work, the thing to do is approach your employer and try to find a constructive solution. If that's not possible, ask to be exempted from the requirement and for alternative protective practices to be put in place to keep you safe.
#2 If the mask itself creates a hazard.
The second circumstance is if the mask itself creates a hazard. Some examples could be cases where the mask prevents you from seeing or smelling a hazard or makes breathing difficult due to an underlying health issue.
In that case, again, have a conversation with your employer and look for solutions.
Since we've been learning more about the coronavirus, wearing masks has been shown to be fairly important. Recent research indicates that if 95% of Americans would wear face masks in public it could prevent 33,000 deaths by October first. That's huge.
Whether or not we like them, what we've learned is that wearing face masks is crucial to preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
I don't like it. I don't know anybody who does, but it's not really about that right now. It's something that we do to protect our community, which protects our family, which protects ourselves, which is best for everybody.
If you have issues with wearing a face mask at work, make sure you talk to your employer about it, but keep in mind that the use of face masks is decided on using a hazard assessment, just the same as other items of PPE - it's not based on personal preference, it's based on safety. The safety of you and your co-workers.
I hope that helps answer your questions.