With the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant, many employers are again considering mask policies. First and foremost, employers must understand what local mandates are applicable and adhere to those requirements. Many states are reimplementing mask mandates to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Employers in states without mask mandates may also choose to implement policies that help ensure a safe work environment.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, wear a mask when indoors. Employers requiring employees to wear masks should provide a clear policy outlining expectations, post signs and notices, and plan to address non-compliance.
1. Implement a mandatory mask policy
Whether you are in a state that requires masks or not, employers that require employees to wear masks in the workplace should implement a written policy. This policy should outline:
- The health and safety reasons for implementing the policy
- Clear guidelines and expectations for mask-wearing and other risk mitigation measures in the workplace. Additional considerations might include physical distancing, surface cleaning in common areas, and the use of hand sanitizer.
- Consequences for non-compliance.
- Who to contact for questions, concerns, or to request an accommodation for exemption
Finally, inform all employees of the requirements outlined in the policy, provide them with a copy of the written policy, and require them to sign an acknowledgment that they have read and understand the policy.
2. Post signs and notices
Post signs and notices around the workplace and common areas to remind employees of the mask requirements, the correct way to wear a mask, and how to choose an effective mask. The CDC offers free downloadable signs that employers can use in workplaces.
Here are a couple of helpful posters for the workplace:
3. Develop a plan for addressing non-compliance
Have a plan in place to address resistance to your mask mandate. Some employees may not want to comply with a mandatory mask policy; being prepared to handle such a situation can prevent it from escalating. Employers must be diligent about enforcing the organization’s policy on mask mandates and be consistent with all employees. It’s best to stick to health and safety reasons. Remind employees that wearing masks helps reduce the spread of COVID-19, is a CDC recommendation and an OSHA requirement, and is an essential tool in maintaining a safe work environment for everyone.
In some cases, employees may need an alternative to wearing a mask. Have an option ready for any potential safety hazards, such as employees who work with machinery that could catch and entangle a mask or who must wear safety goggles that could fog up while wearing a mask. If needed, consult OSHA recommendations for such situations.
If an employee refuses to wear a mask due to social or political reasons or any reason that is not covered by a legitimate exemption, remain neutral, calm, and respectful when discussing expectations and reiterating the health and safety reasons for requiring masks in the workplace. Try to deescalate the situation and have a plan in place if it becomes violent.
Employers have the right to require masks in the workplace. If an employee is refusing to comply, address it immediately. An employer can choose to discipline or terminate an employee according to the specific circumstances but be sure to outline what these consequences will be in the mask policy, apply them consistently to all employees, and document all disciplinary actions.