COVID-19 UPDATE: Should Employers Require Face Masks in the Workplace?

Employers wondering how to best protect employees from COVID-19 exposure may be considering whether they should allow or require employees to wear face masks at work.

Recent guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends covering the mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when in public, especially in places where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain and in areas of significant community-based transmission.  The CDC cautions though that use of a cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing.

Employers should consider several factors to decide whether to allow or require mask use by employees.  Factors include the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace, the conduciveness to social distancing in the workplace, and whether there is a compelling safety reason not to allow or require mask use.  To aid employers in making this decision, we recommend using the following guidelines:

  • If the workplace presents a high risk of exposure to COVID-19, like a healthcare facility, masks and/or other personal protective equipment should be not only allowed but required.
  • If the workplace does not allow employees to practice recommended social distancing, masks should be either required or allowed, unless there is a compelling safety reason not to allow mask use (e.g. using a mask to operate certain equipment in which using the mask actually creates more of a safety hazard).
  • If the workplace does not present a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and allows employees to practice recommended social distancing, then employers should allow employees who have to be at work, and who want to wear a mask, to do so, unless there is a strong safety reason or business reason not to allow it. An employer considering disallowing employee use of face masks for business reasons should carefully weigh any business reasons with the potential risk to the safety of its employees.

Employers should also consider that certain employees may be at higher risk due to underlying medical conditions, and mask use may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the state accommodation law or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If you are unsure of what policies to implement regarding mask use by employees in the workplace, seek legal counsel.

About the Authors: Meredith R. Farrell and Kelley L. Stonebraker

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