Masking: The COVID-19 protection mandate. Wear a mask!
Businesses are trying to prepare and adjust as a growing number of US states have mandated the use of masks and face coverings while in public.
With the recent lift of coronavirus restrictions, more businesses are opening but the number of cases are still rising and masks are being advised or mandated in many states to slow the spread.
So what does this look like in the workplace?
The future of work will involve a lot of face masks, at least in the short run, as companies do all they can to attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. But the rules and expectations for face masks are evolving each day and as with so much in this ongoing pandemic, the answers aren’t always clear.
It’s a good idea to look to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for some guidance. On June 10, OSHA stated that “millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time” as businesses reopen and offices repopulate after months of stay-at-home orders. “OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work,” the agency said, but it added that employers can decide not to, “based on the specific circumstances present at the worksite.”
Engineering and administrative controls, such as improving air ventilation and ensuring strict social distancing, are also ways to protect workers. Face masks should be used in addition to this when those measures aren’t feasible, according to OSHA guidance.
There is evidence in a recent study which found that the use of masks and face coverings has been an effective way to reduce person-to-person spread of coronavirus. People are being advised to wear masks when they cannot social distance and many states are mandating it in businesses or group settings.
The Rules are changing, again!
If employers are confused, we can understand why. After saying we don’t need masks in public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed their mind in early April and said everyone should wear a face covering when near others to prevent unknowingly spreading the disease. This is especially important because some people with COVID-19 never show symptoms, the CDC said. “Cloth face-coverings provide an extra layer to help prevent the respiratory droplets [that spread the infection] from traveling in the air and onto other people.”
Although the federal government considers mask usage at the workplace to be voluntary, for now at least, some states require that masks be worn in certain occupations, especially among public-facing employees, such as restaurant servers and hair stylists. Each state has a slightly different take on when and where masks are required. For example, Connecticut requires mask use in office buildings among other settings, and in Ohio, all businesses must provide masks and require employees to wear them or provide written justification for not doing so. Where masks are required, employers generally must provide them under the state laws.
Apart from satisfying any legal obligations, providing masks to employees and encouraging their use to prevent the spread of infection can make other workers feel more comfortable and willing to come into the workplace.
Employers should stay aware of state regulations!
Various governors have created executive mandates where face coverings are now required and risk citation if not followed due to governmental executive orders. This varies from state to state. It is important to stay on top of this information however, as all things COVID-19 are fluid, you must expect it will become outdated quickly as new announcements are made.
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