As you and your team return to the office, or simply begin planning to return to the office, there are a lot of things to think about in your human resource strategy. Perhaps one of the most fraught topics is whether and/or how you can require masks to be worn. Besides the tense cultural dialogue about masks and who should wear them, there’s another element of confusion: the constantly changing laws and regulations, as well as the fact they frequently conflict from location to location.
Should my company require face masks at work?
The shortest answer you’d get from most HR solutions companies right now is a resounding yes. The spread of COVID-19 is still rampant, with new spikes in states across the US every day. On a June 28th update, the CDC suggested, in its strongest language yet, that cloth face masks are our best defense against the respiratory droplets of others that could carry COVID. HR services around the country would strongly recommend you take this precaution right now, especially because the stakes are so high.
Though there isn’t a federal mandate to wear masks at work, some states are requiring them in particular jobs, especially public-facing employees, like servers at restaurants and hair stylists. Some states are also requiring masks in office buildings, like Connecticut and Ohio. Besides state guidelines, OSHA is also recommending that employers require their staff to wear a face covering as a way to curb the unwitting spread of COVID at work.
If laws and regulations weren’t enough, this last source might persuade you: your employees. You’ll likely ease your staff’s minds about returning to work if everyone around them is wearing a mask. Going back to work since the pandemic started might be a very scary prospect to your employees. Seeing everyone around them take this very effective precaution will go a long way to ease their concerns.
It’s also important to note that requiring face masks for workers shouldn’t be your last step in your COVID-19 plan. You should also use strategic human resource planning to consider intensified sanitizing, improving air ventilation, using plexiglass between workstations if applicable, and of course, procedures to ensure social distancing (like one way hallways or aisles in the grocery store, staggered breaks, or even staggered days in the office).
What are the best hr strategies for requiring face masks at work?
- Pay for masks, especially if you’re required to: In many states, you’ll be required to pay for masks if you are requiring them. If the state or local government is requiring the masks, you’ll also be required to pay for them. Outside of laws about COVID-19, you might be indirectly responsible for paying for the masks because it’s an expenditure required for employees to do their jobs. OSHA does not require employers to pay for masks as they’re not technically personal protective equipment (or PPE). Beyond all of this official guidance, you’ll also want to consider morale. Masks are easily and cheaply bought now. It could go a long way to create good morale if you simply choose to buy masks for your employees because it’s the right thing to do. Some companies are even creating branded cloth face masks that they provide to their staff. It’s simply good strategic human resource management.
- Ensure that employees are fully informed on how to use masks: Even though some of it may be common sense, using a mask correctly is what makes it effective. It must snugly fit around the face and cover the mouth and nose. Employees should wash the mask after each use (for this reason, it’s best to have at least a few on hand so somebody can rotate dirty and clean masks). Your employees should wash their hands before putting a mask on and after taking it off. Face masks should never be shared.
What are the best hr strategies to use when your employees won’t wear a face mask?
- Start with a reasonable dialogue. Explain why the mask is required and its benefits. What is the reason why the person won’t wear a mask? Do they have a medical condition? Do they already have issues breathing? Does it make communication difficult because it obstructs lip reading? If it’s simply a matter of the employee not preferring the mask or finding it uncomfortable, then push back. Ask your hr service to help you ascertain if the Americans with Disabilities Act will apply here. If it does, see the next step.
- If necessary, come up with an alternative. If the ADA applies, you can do things like supply your employee with a clear face shield or have them work in a secluded area of the office. You could also stagger their hours so they are minimally exposed to coworkers or clients. As a last resort, if it makes sense, you could have the employee complete some or all of their job remotely.
- Suspend the employee if you need to. If your employee won’t comply with the mask requirement but doesn’t have a legitimate reason, you can threaten suspension. The law is generally backing up employers on this issue because of its importance for public safety. Confer with your HR department or reach out to professional hr services for further guidance.
Want to learn more about COVID and the workplace? Check out our COVID-19 town hall webinar here.
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