Can Employers Legally Force Employees To Wear Masks? How To Protect Your Employees

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The COVID-19 epidemic will likely continue until the end of the year despite restrictions being lifted in many states. Most businesses currently require essential workers to wear protection, and even if they refuse to service customers who don’t wear a mask and try to enter the premise of the business. What are the measures an employer must take in order to guarantee the safety of their employees; and what happens if an employee refuses to wear a mask due to a medical condition or a religious reason? This post will focus on how to keep your workers safe and instruct them to wear masks.

Legally, business owners are permitted to decide whether they should mandate the use of face masks in the workplace, or allow their employees to choose voluntarily. There won’t be any legal repercussions if an employer chooses to fire an employee for refusing to wear a mask at work – unless the employee has a reason, such as religion, which requires them to wear a beard that makes wearing masks a challenge, and they have grounds for discrimination. 

  • In certain business spheres, wearing a face mask is not even a recommended practice. For instance, construction businesses that operate outdoors, where employees are more than 6 feet apart, don’t require face masks. 

High-Risk Employees

OSHA is a regulatory agency that recommends worker protection for employees. Under their newest protection standard (the 29 CFR), all employers/business owners must provide protective equipment, such as face masks and respirators, to employees when the equipment is necessary for their health and the customer’s health.

The newest OSHA regulations mandate that all employees in high-risk categories must get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including respirator masks. The most “dangerous” industries according to OHSA are healthcare, laboratory workers (who perform sample-taking on potential COVID-19 patients), and death care workers. Employees in the healthcare industry, constantly exposed to infected Covid-19 patients or suspected patients, carry the highest risk of contracting the infection.

Medium-Risk Employees

OHSA has another category called the “medium risk” category which relates to other professions that engage with the public at large. While medium-risk employees are not as likely to be infected as high-risk medical workers, they should still receive adequate protection in order to stay safe at work. In this category, OHSA advised all business owners to supply PPE, such as face masks, to their workers and measure temperatures before allowing them to go to work.

The medium-risk category envelops all workers who must interact with customers less than 6 feet away, such as grocery/supermarket workers, retail workers, food workers, and more. OHSA has advised surgical face masks at a minimum, and respirator masks as the optimal solution.

Low-Risk Employees

In the low-risk category, such as businesses that don’t require interaction with the public, OHSA has advised no additional PPE measures. The CDC shifted their opinion from not recommending face masks in public to recommending face masks to the general public (especially in high-risk cities), and the American Society Of Safety Professionals (ASSP) advised wearing respirator masks for all high-risk workers, such as healthcare staff, emergency responders, law enforcement officers, and more.

CDC claims that even respirator masks may not be effective in the prevention of the spread, unless applied and worn correctly. The World Health Organization warned against relying on face masks as the sole security measures and advised employers to take further action, such as send non-essential workers home, for the duration of the crisis.

Conclusion

It is up to the employers and business owners to choose whether they want to take additional measures to protect employees. Basic measures such as mandating surgical face masks might give a degree of protection, but respirator masks can minimize the exposure to the virus for all employees. An example of a respirator mask is DittoMask – the mask grips tightly around the mouth and filters all harmful particles.