Employee Face Mask Policy
This Employee Face Mask Policy governs the required or recommended wearing of face masks or face coverings in the workplace. Employers may use this policy to provide protocols to help maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Specifically, employers can use this policy when reopening after closures caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Employers may incorporate this policy into an employee handbook or use it as a stand-alone policy document. Please note that this policy is jurisdiction-neutral and is based on general guidelines issued by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the World Health Organization (WHO). State and local reopening standards and requirements may vary by industry. Therefore, employers should modify this policy to comply with applicable state and local reopening standards and requirements.
All employers have a general duty to provide a safe working environment under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic has created additional health and safety challenges for employers. As stay-at-home orders are lifted or relaxed and businesses reopen, employers must take steps not only to maintain a safe and healthy workplace, but also to prevent the spread and resurgence of COVID-19. Additionally, various federal administrative agencies provide guidance for employers regarding COVID-19.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC has recommended several measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including:
- Limiting face-to-face contact with others, known as social distancing or physical distancing.
- Wearing face masks or other face coverings when in public places around people outside their household, especially when sufficient social distance cannot be maintained. On July 14, 2020, the CDC issued a press release calling on all Americans to wear face coverings and explaining the increasing evidence that face coverings prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- General cleaning and hygiene measures, including:
- Frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer;
- Refraining from touching one’s eyes, nose, and mouth; and
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
While face masks are not a substitute for social distancing, personal hygiene, or other cleaning protocols, the CDC recommends wearing face masks or cloth face coverings as a form of source control to help protect co-workers and the general public from the spread of COVID-19, especially in areas where there has been significant community spread. This is because, among other things:
- COVID-19 generally spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and respiratory droplets from their mouth or nose enter the mouths or noses of nearby people.
- Individuals with no symptoms (asymptomatic) may be infected with the virus and can spread COVID-19.
Face masks do not necessarily protect the wearer from contracting the virus but instead are effective as source control to protect asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals from unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Employers should screen those known to have the virus, or are experiencing symptoms, and should prevent them from entering the workplace.
On May 27, 2020, the CDC issued updated guidance for reopening office buildings. The CDC recommends that employees:
- Wear a cloth face covering in all areas of the business.
- Not wear a cloth face coverings at work if they:
- Have trouble breathing;
- Cannot tolerate wearing it; or
- Cannot remove it without assistance.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
OSHA now similarly recommends that employers generally encourage workers to wear cloth face coverings at work (OSHA: COVID-19 FAQs: Cloth Face Coverings). Other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields, surgical masks, and respirators, may be necessary or recommended to protect certain employees from COVID-19 (OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19). OSHA recognizes that recommendations may change during a pandemic depending on the industry, location, and information about the effectiveness of the PPE (see OSHA: Hazard Recognition). Employers should note that the CDC and OSHA do not generally consider cloth face coverings to be PPE.
World Health Organization (WHO)
The WHO also revised its guidance several times about the use of face masks by the general public. It now recommends that face mask use should be encouraged in various situations, including workplaces where social distancing cannot be accomplished or in settings where vulnerable individuals are present. Additionally, the WHO recognizes that there are benefits and drawbacks of recommending or requiring mask use. When adopting policies on mask use, the WHO recommends that decisionmakers, including employers should:
- Clearly communicate:
- The purpose of the mask policy;
- Where, when, and how the mask should be work; and
- What type of masks are recommended or permissible.
- Explain the benefits and limitations of the mask policy. Stress that the mask policy:
- Is not a substitute for other protective measures, such as personal hygiene and social distancing; and
- Is designed to work together with other measures, and the policies reinforce one another.
- Train employees on safe mask wearing, removal, and disposal or cleaning.
- Ensure there is an adequate supply of and access to masks.
- Continue to:
- Assess the scientific data and evidence on mask use as it evolves; and
- Evaluate the impact of the mask policy.
Employee Face Mask Policy Guidance
Depending on the employer’s location and industry, an employer may require or at least recommend that employees and members of the public interacting with them wear face masks or other face coverings while on the employer’s premises or conducting the employer’s business. In some cases, employers require employees to wear face masks as a condition to reopening. While these directives vary, they may apply to:
- All employees and members of the public entering the workplace.
- Employees in certain industries, such as:
- Retail employees;
- Restaurant workers; and
- Personal service providers.
- Employees interacting with the public.
Employers may use this policy to:
- Require or recommend that employees wear face masks in the workplace.
- Identify certain situations and circumstances when face masks are required.
- Specify whether the employer will provide the face masks or whether employees may use a face covering of their choosing.
- Communicate any restrictions on specific face masks, such as those depicting offensive language or images.
- Communicate whether the employer is paying or reimbursing employees for the cost of:
- Buying face masks; or
- Laundering reusable face masks.
- Instruct employees on the proper wearing, removal, and cleaning or disposal of face masks.
- Provide a mechanism for employees to request a reasonable accommodation if they have a disability that prevents them from safely wearing a face mask.
Employers may use this policy in conjunction with recommended (and in some cases required) social distancing and employee health-screening protocols. Employers can also incorporate this policy into an employee handbook, use it as a stand-alone policy document, or include it as part of a health and safety policy. However, because the policy likely includes protocols previously unfamiliar to most employees, it is preferable that employers:
- Separately distribute the policy to employees before or immediately upon returning to the workplace.
- Train managers and employees (ideally before returning to work, such as using remote training) on the importance of compliance and the employer’s commitment to enforcing the policy.
- Give employees an avenue to raise questions or request an accommodation modifying or excusing compliance with the policy.
This policy is not tailored for use in any specific industry or location. Thus, employers must modify the policy to the requirements and best practices in their industry and the specific locations where they operate, all of which are changing rapidly. The policy does not cover employees who are health care workers or emergency responders known to be in contact with individuals infected with COVID-19. Those individuals typically require PPE beyond face masks or other cloth face coverings and must comply with more stringent health and safety protocols.
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