Face Masks in the Workplace

Topics: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Summary: As more businesses continue to reopen over the next several months, wearing face masks will likely remain a popular preventative measure throughout the country. Find out what employers need to know about the different state and local laws regarding face masks in the workplace.

Many states are entering various phases of reopening their economies just a few months after the coronavirus forced them into lockdown. Various guidelines have been established to help businesses reopen successfully, while also keeping the health and safety of their employees top of mind.

COVID-19 is commonly spread in close quarters from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. OSHA offers guidelines on what employers can do to help mitigate the risk of exposure to the virus, including providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks “if feasible and available, and ask the person to wear it, if tolerated.”

The Benefits of Implementing a Face Mask Policy at Work

The CDC also recommends wearing face coverings in public settings as protection from COVID-19. Studies show that respiratory droplets from an infected person can land in the nose and mouth of individuals within a six-foot radius, or about the lengths of two arms. Cloth face masks can potentially slow the spread of the virus, especially from asymptomatic carriers who may be unaware they have it. These coverings provide an extra layer of protection to keep respiratory droplets from becoming airborne.

employee wearing face mask to prevent spread of covid-19

In the workplace, creating a face mask policy for both employees and customers or vendors they may come into contact with can be beneficial in protecting everyone from the coronavirus – and help slow the spread.

Frequently Asked Questions about Employees Wearing Face Masks

As more businesses continue to reopen over the next several months, wearing face masks will likely remain a popular preventative measure throughout the country. Some states require individuals to wear them in public settings, too, including places of employment.

Questions often arise regarding face coverings in the workplace. It’s important employees understand how to wear a face mask properly (fully covering the nose and mouth, avoiding touching, moving and removing it), how to keep them clean and properly discard them. Here are a few questions and answers regarding employees wearing face masks:

Are employees required to wear face masks?

Each state has different rules regarding face coverings in the workplace. Some states require employees of restaurants, fitness centers, retail stores, hair salons, offices and other establishments to wear them during hours of operation, while in other states, it’s only recommended to do so.

Do employers cover the costs of employee face masks?

This also differs per state orders. Some directives do require employers to pay for and provide face coverings and other types of PPE, such as gloves or safety glasses. For example, employers in New York must cover the costs of face masks and ensure each employee is protected. Whether the state directs it or not, OSHA generally requires employers to provide any PPE that is needed to keep workers safe from hazards on the job.

Can an employee refuse to wear a face mask?

Some individuals have medical issues or health conditions, such as asthma, that do not allow them to wear a face mask. In such cases, the employer should not assign the employee to work in areas that would necessitate the need for a face covering. Additionally, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidelines regarding employees with disabilities who may not be able to wear a mask that states under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the employer needs to provide reasonable accommodations for these employees. If, however, the employee simply refuses to wear a mask because he or she finds it uncomfortable, the employer may require it as a condition of employment.

Should masks be required in employee breakrooms or restrooms?

Masks should be worn any time employees are within a six-foot range of each other. When employees are isolated from coworkers at their desks or in private offices, it’s possible to remove the mask. They may also generally remove them to eat or drink, or when they are in outdoor workspaces at a six-foot distance from other workers.

What are the best practices for wearing face masks?

The World Health Organization offers a few tips on how to wear a face mask properly to ensure the health and safety of all employees:
  • Always wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before putting on the mask
  • Make sure the mouth and nose are both completely covered by the mask, and there are no gaps out the sides Do not touch the mask once it is on
  • If the mask gets damp while being worn, discard it and replace it with a new one
  • Remove the mask from behind the head or ears, keeping it held away from the body and any surfaces
  • Properly dispose of the mask or place it in an enclosed bin for washing
  • Wash hands again after discarding the mask

AmTrust is Here for Our Small Business Insureds

AmTrust is here to help with an array of tips, coronavirus resources and more to ensure our small business insureds stay informed, safe and healthy as they prepare to reopen their doors. For more information about our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal, tax or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is accurate, appropriate or suitable for any specific business, tax or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business, tax and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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