Employers have a moral and legal obligation to keep their employees safe. During the COVID-19 pandemic this can extend to introducing appropriate measures such as the requirement to wear masks at work. This is what you need to take into account when determining whether or not workplace face coverings are necessary in your organization.
1. Assess the level of risk
Determining the level of risk for your employees is the first step you should take in establishing whether you should insist on workplace face coverings. This will vary by industry and by job.
High-risk roles such as healthcare, aged care, pathology labs, first responders etc… you should be insisting mandatory wearing of face masks in the workplace as part of an employee mask policy.
Medium risk if they regularly come into close contact (within 6 feet) of other people who could be potential carriers of COVID-19. The risk is greater depending on the level of community transmission where your business is located and should be factored into whether you need a face mask policy at work.
Low risk and may not require workplace face coverings if they aren’t routinely coming into close contact with colleagues or members of the public.
2. Do your employees need masks or face coverings? And what is the difference?
Masks are generally specialized for medical and surgical purposes, or may be fitted with a filtering respirator. They are recommended for health care providers, first responders and other frontline essential workers who need to take extra steps to protect their respiratory health.
Face coverings on the other hand are not suitable for medical and surgical environments. The CDC recommends cloth face coverings such as bandanas or other material that fit snugly across the face, are secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, enable breathing without restriction and can be washed and machine dried without being damaged or changing shape.
3. What to do if your employees refuse to wear a face mask or covering?
In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has released guidance that employers can require their employees to wear PPE like face masks to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Employers have a basic right to determine and uphold rules in the workplace so long as they are non-discriminatory, and this includes developing an employee mask policy.
Employees who reject your mask policy and refuse to wear workplace face coverings can be considered to be adhering to safety precautions, and as such can have their employment terminated for doing so.
There are limited circumstances where employees may not be compelled to wear a face covering – for example if they have a medical condition, such as a respiratory illness or if they have religious grounds.
4. Create a workplace mask policy
If you require your employees to wear a mask or face covering during the pandemic, whether it’s because of government mandate or just a company mandate, it is essential you have an official employee mask policy in place.
Your employee mask policy should be written by the Human Resources team and checked legally and should contain:
- a background on why face masks are required to be worn,
- information on which employees are required to wear face coverings and when,
- who should pay for the workplace face coverings and where they can be obtained,
- instructions on proper wear of the masks,
- how to maintain the masks,
- how to dispose of the masks
- and what happens if the policy is not adhered to.
Workplace Face Mask Policy Free Template
If you require your employees to wear a face-covering or mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should have a clear policy that you communicate with them.
Use this template as a guide to set out the relevant information about your organization’s approach to face coverings in the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic.