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by Samantha Keefe | August 03, 2020

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Due to the continual spread of Covid-19, many companies are probably thinking a lot about face masks. Hopefully, your company is considering to require masks for its clients and employees. As your company makes its plans to return to the office, here are some answers to common questions about masks that might be on your mind. 

Should my company require face masks at work?

The answer to this question is complicated, since laws and regulations vary depending on your state, city, and county. However, the safest and most likely answer is yes.

Covid-19 is still spreading rampantly, with new spikes in states around the U.S. In a June 28 update, the CDC used its strongest language yet to say that cloth face masks are the best defense against other people’s respiratory droplets (which could carry Covid). Considering that the lives and wellness of employees are at stake, this is probably not a moment to play fast and loose.

In terms of laws, it’s important to note that there isn’t a federal mandate to wear masks at work. However, some states are requiring them in certain jobs, especially public-facing ones. Servers at restaurants and hair stylists are prime examples. Some states, like Connecticut and Ohio, are also requiring masks in office buildings. Beyond state guidelines, OSHA recommends that employers make it mandatory for employees to wear a face covering on the job.

If laws and regulations don’t persuade companies, hopefully they should think of their employees. With tensions high around Covid, companies can relieve some of their employees’ stress about returning to work if everyone is required to mask up.

It’s possible (and probable) that companies are already getting significant pushback from their staffs about returning to the office. Putting this precaution in place will make employees feel safer and help them be more focused and ready to resume business. And if there ever was a time to make employees feel more focused, this is it.

How do companies require face masks at work?

Companies can start by making sure employees understand how to use and wear masks. Companies can write and share a policy that details that masks must fit snugly around the face and completely cover the mouth and nose, adding that employees may want to have multiple masks because they’ll need to wash them after every use. Employees should also know they need to wash their hands before taking a mask off or putting it on. Lastly, even though it’s probably common sense, employees should be told that face masks should never be shared.

Do companies need to pay for employee face masks?

Again, the answer varies by state and city. In certain states, companies are indeed lawfully required to pay for masks if there’s a policy for them to be worn. If your state or local government legally requires companies to make their staffs wear masks while at the workplace, then companies should also plan to pay for them.  Even if there are no laws in your area that explicitly mention paying for masks, companies may be indirectly responsible for them because they’re expenditures that employees need to do their jobs.

All legal and regulatory reasons aside, morale should be a factor in companies’ decisions. Especially in the middle of Covid, when many employees are already feeling stressed about the pandemic or their family’s finances, this might be one way to help them feel supported. Some companies are even making their own branded face masks that they provide to workers for free.

What if employees won’t wear face masks?

At MP, we work with a lot of companies that are seeing this problem. Luckily, there are a few ways to tackle it. First, companies can begin by having a calm, reasonable dialogue with employees that seeks to determine why they don’t want to wear a mask. Maybe the employee has a medical reason they won’t wear a mask. Maybe they have breathing issues, or they need to be able to read lips. If there’s a legitimate reason, companies will need to find some sort of accommodation for them under the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA). One solutions is companies can supply a clear face shield, have the employee work in a secluded office or from home, or even have a staggered schedule so they don’t encounter anybody.

If a staff member simply doesn’t want to wear the mask, then companies can threaten (and go through with) suspension. The law will back companies up on this, and many workplaces are finding that the CDC’s recommendation for public safety in this pandemic can be used to override most objections that employees might have. 

A version of this post previously appeared on MassPay, which offers HR and payroll services and has been in business for nearly two decades, serving thousands of companies across the U.S. Since 2014, it has won spots on the Inc 5000 list and the Boston Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies list.

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