Facemasks in the Workplace

A recent news story has reported on employers who are requiring their employees to wear facemasks at work. This post discusses whether or not this is legal, and what employees' rights are in this situation.
facemasks in workplace Heather M. Collins Civil Rights Attorney

Can My Employer Force Me to Not Wear a Facemask?

This should not be controversial, but in light of actions that have been reported in the news by certain unnamed Middle Tennessee employers, here goes.

The science is uncontroverted. If you want to wear a facemask in your workplace to protect yourself and your family, you have every right to do so. An employer who forces you to NOT wear a facemask not only clearly doesn’t care about your welfare or that of other humans, but they could be violating the law.

ADA and OSHA Protections Regarding Facemasks

Under the ADA, employees can be given reasonable accommodations for a disability if they or their family member has a health condition that requires them to take precautionary measures to prevent exposure to COVID-19. In such a case, it is a perfectly reasonable accommodation to wear your facemask all day while at work. In many instances, teleworking is also a reasonable accommodation.

During the pandemic, OSHA recommends employers encourage workers to wear cloth face coverings at work. Facemasks have been proven to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. So if your employer is obnoxious enough to require you to NOT wear a facemask, they may be committing an OSHA violation,

While there is no right to “free speech” in most private sector workplaces, employees do have a right to protest unfair labor practices. If an employer retaliates against you for such a protest, they likely have violated the NLRA and a complaint needs to be filed with the DOL.

Be sure to lodge a complaint with your employer, call an attorney, and start looking for a boss that cares about the health of other humans, not just their pocketbook and clearly sizeable ego.

Can My Employer Require Me to Wear a Facemask?

We have gotten a lot of calls about whether your employer can require you to wear one. The short answer is YES with a few minor exceptions under the ADA or possibly Title VII (due to a sincerely held religious belief that does not include your run-of-the-mill contrariness).

Some people also appear to be under the misapprehension that state and federal constitutions must be changed to require a mask and that is the only way to enforce the requirement in public or the workplace. Nope, not correct either. If you refuse to mask up, unless you fall within a narrow exception, your employer will likely have a legitimate reason to terminate you if you don’t.

So, mask up if your employer requires it. When a vaccine becomes available, the same analysis will likely hold true if/when employers require it, although we suspect there will be more of an accommodation issue under the ADA than with facemasks. Be safe, think of others.

Be safe, wear your mask and/or distance, and take care of your fellow humans!

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heather m collins attorney nashville square

Heather M. Collins is an experienced civil rights and employment law attorney who has dedicated her career to protecting the rights of employees.

She has represented clients in a wide range of employment-related matters, including discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims.

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