On July 9, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor‘s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published new guidance to assist employers in creating safe workplaces. In the guidance, OSHA addresses frequently asked questions to common COVID-19-related workplace safety inquiries, including whether employees should wear facemasks while at work: Employer-provided facemasks not mandated. OSHA clarified that facemasks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not intended to be substitutes for PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards. Consequently, facemasks do not fall under OSHA’s PPE standards and employers are not required to provide facemasks to employees.
Workplace facemasks recommended. OSHA recommends employers encourage employees to wear facemasks at work to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Where facemasks are not appropriate in the workplace (e.g., because they could become contaminated due to chemicals or infectious material in the work environment), employers may provide PPE, such as face shields and/or surgical masks. Employers also should consider providing masks with clear windows to facilitate interaction between employees and individuals who need to lip-read to communicate.
Facemasks to be cleaned or discarded. OSHA suggests following the guidance published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning and discarding facemasks.
Social distancing still required. OSHA reiterates that facemasks are not a substitute for social distancing measures, i.e., controls intended to minimize areas of close contact between employees.
While OSHA has not mandated the wearing of facemasks in the workplace, the practice is highly recommended. Employees should wear facemasks at work if appropriate to their work environment and job tasks to minimize the risk of future claims of workplace COVID-19 exposure. There may be state and local legislative developments that could impact the guidance provided by OSHA, including state directives requiring individuals to wear facemasks in public.
These states currently operate under facemask mandates:
|Maine||North Carolina||West Virginia|
Beyond these states, there are other jurisdictions such as California where municipal governments or local departments of public health dictate the extent to which facemasks must be worn.
Employers should consult legal counsel regarding specific circumstances for individualized legal advice on COVID-19-related workplace issues.