In the world-wide pandemic we are currently facing, wearing a mask seems to have become a part and parcel of our daily lives. And now, as the offices and factories are slowly opening up it has become a sort of new rule to enforce wearing masks on your workforce. Naturally, when enforcing new rules insubordination and ignorance is expected. So, in such cases, can you fire an employee for wearing a mask?
You can certainly fire an employee if he refuses to wear a mask as long as there’s a clear policy that states all the employees have to wear a face mask in order to prevent any kind of infectious disease. However, the better option would be to let him off with a warning first. Yet if he keeps violating the policy, then firing him might be the only option.
But there are still many more things to know about regarding enforcing policies and dealing with employees who don’t abide by them. In this article, I am going to talk about this topic more vividly and will try to provide you with ways of enforcing the policy without violating the law.
Can You Fire an Employee Who Refuses to Wear a Mask?
In the US, employers are independent in firing employees considering no violation of the law is taking place. There can be several reasons behind terminating an employee. And among the many reasons, termination is an option if the employee fails to abide by the safety precautions that’s been in place for the protection of everyone in the workplace.
If there’s a policy in place for all the employees that states that they’ll have to cover their face with a mask while being at the workplace, they can be faced with disciplinary action and even termination if they decline to comply. Because by not complying, they are building an unsafe workplace as a face mask is a requirement for workplace safety and health.
In order to prevent the fanning out of COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local and state governments have recommended necessary face-covering policies for the workplaces.
Therefore, it is a mandatory requirement that employees oblige by the policy and wear a face mask while they are at work. If they refuse to do so, they can face termination, especially if there’s a rising chance of infection spread in the workplace. However, in case of some specific circumstances like religious or medical reasons, termination may not be an option.
In that case, advanced warning and discipline may be the option to go for in order to dominate the offending employee into wearing a face mask. But if the employee repeatedly violates the policy of safety and health, then termination may be the only option left.
So, the employer needs to establish a clear policy that entails all the employees need to wear a face mask for maintaining safety in the workplace, and violation of this policy will cause severe circumstances as it not only threatens the health of the employee who violates the policy but also the health of the entire workplace. And repeated violations can lead to termination as well.
However, it is still recommended that before deciding on terminating an employee, the employer must seek the advice of an attorney.
How Can You Enforce Wearing a Face Mask in The Workplace?
Nowadays, social media and television are spreading awareness and talking about the importance of wearing a mask to prevent infections like COVID-19 from spreading, as it's been proven that masks are essential in doing so. But wearing a mask can be troublesome and inconvenient as we are not used to it, and some people may also refuse to wear it due to their personal choice.
As many people work together in a close parameter in a workplace, the importance of wearing face masks is even greater. Therefore, it is essential to convince the employees to wear a mask, and this enforcement can be done by following a solid strategy of 6 steps.
1. Establish a Face-Covering Policy
Whenever a transparent company policy is absent, problems regarding the policies take place and hamper the workplace's peace and safety. The face-covering policy or the policy regarding wearing a face mask in the workplace is no different.
If no explicit policy is being created, then conflict is bound to occur, doesn't matter how small the requirement is. Therefore, it is suggested that employers provide their employees with proper instruction on what the policy entails to enforce the need to wear a face mask in the workplace.
2. Managerial & Executive Buy-in
People may choose not to wear a face mask for many reasons. However, not every reason is logical. Some may even be totally ignorant regarding the safety and health in the workplace. Therefore, to enforce the mask-wearing policy, it is highly recommended to add a face mask with the employee uniform.
To do so, every company should get their employees' cloth mask with their company logo imprinted on the mask. This way, it will become a part of their uniform, making the policy clearer. This way, the health and safety code of the workplace can be maintained more strictly and easily.
3. Disclose the Policy
After people in managerial positions are introduced to the policy, the next important step is explaining the approach to the employees and also to talk about the importance of enforcing it. Because only by communicating with them, the importance of wearing a face mask and awareness regarding it can be spread.
Therefore, it is suggested to hold meetings to talk about the policy vividly with the employees and also to let them know about necessary steps that'll be taken if they refuse to abide by it. They should also be provided with written guidance to sign acknowledging the requirements of the mask-wearing policy.
4. Hold People Responsible
Whenever an employee neglects to wear a face mask or forgets to, it is not only the manager’s responsibility to make him understand the importance or remind him of wearing a face mask. It is, in fact, the responsibility of all the people around him. This will help enforce the mask-wearing policy greatly.
However, this may sometimes cause a problem as well. Because the bonding between co-workers is not strong enough for this kind of confrontation, some people may face issues or be uncomfortable with this sort of encounter. Therefore, it is also essential to let the employees know that they can always share their problems with the management.
5. Acknowledging & Understanding
Whenever a policy is created, there will be at least one person who will defy it. The sentiment behind doing so can be to look more robust or to have trouble with any sort of change. When you create the policy of wearing a face mask in the workplace, you'll probably have to face problems as well.
It may be due to the employee's anticipation of conflict or wearing a mask makes them look incompetent. No matter what the reason is, you should listen to them and try to understand their version of the cause because it will make the employees feel heard, accepted, and thus they'll be more respectful towards the policies.
If you call out your policy-violating employee in front of everyone and force him to wear a mask without listening to his reason or without acknowledging his feeling, saying it's a rule, and he has to follow it, there's a chance he'll violate the policy and thus will create an unsafe workplace.
Therefore, try to listen and understand your employees' feelings, make them feel heard and accepted, as it will help you enforce the policies in a much reasonable manner.
6. Take Action When Required
After going through all the other measures, if any of your employees still violates the policy by refusing to wear a face mask, then necessary steps need to be taken in order to ensure a safe working place for the people around them, mostly if he works in a close parameter where social distancing is not an option or if he deals with the public closely.
At first, listen to your policy-violating employee’s reason. If it is due to any medical or religious grounds, try to isolate him from others or let him work from home, as allowing him to work in close proximity may be harmful to others. But if the reason is illogical, if he is doing it out of spite or ignorance, then it becomes essential to take action.
In this case, the offending employee should be warned and appropriately disciplined, and the warnings should be documented. If he still doesn’t abide by the policy, then the punishment can be up to termination. The employees need to be warned about this punishment as this will make them understand the importance of wearing a face mask and make the enforcement easier.
By following the above-mentioned steps, you can enforce the need of wearing a face mask in the workplace quite effortlessly.
When Can An Employee Refuse To Wear A Mask?
Wearing a face mask has become a necessity in order to avoid the spread of any infectious disease. Even though employees at a workplace can refuse to wear a face mask for many invalid reasons, some exceptions need to be taken into consideration and cannot be avoided by forcing the employee to wear a mask. these exceptions are-
Religious or Medical Exception
Suppose an employee has issues wearing a face mask due to any religious ground. In that case, he should immediately consult with the manager or any one of a higher position and discuss the matter with him. In this particular case, he may be granted to work from home or given a specific corner that distances him from other people present.
Similarly, if an employee has a medical condition like respiratory illness, anxiety attacks, claustrophobia, due to which wearing a face mask makes it even harder for him to breathe, he should also consult the manager. In this case, the employee will have to provide the employer with a note from the doctor stating the seriousness of his condition.
This way, he will be given the same opportunity (work from home or specific corner to work from) as well because of his exceptional condition.
Occupational Danger or Inefficiency
When an employee wears a face mask, it is predictable that he may face trouble with his seeing and smelling abilities. If this trouble creates any kind of occupational hazard, then the employee can refuse to wear a face mask as then terminating him will be unlawful.
Another reason behind refusing to wear a face mask that may be considered justified is if the mask somehow hampers your performance during work. For example, if your vision gets compromised during work because of your goggles getting fogged up, or suppose the partners you are working with aren’t being able to hear your commands due to the layer in front of your mouth.
These kinds of things can cause inefficiency in the workplace and can create misunderstandings as well. So, in this case, the employees should consult the supervisor as soon as possible and try to come up with a solution that may involve- different kind of face mask, working from home, or granting specific corners for maintaining social distance.
These are the few exceptions that may be taken into consideration. Otherwise, no one should be excused from wearing a face mask in the workplace to maintain people's safety.
In this article, I have tried to provide you with all the information regarding the enforcement of wearing a face mask in order to maintain health and safety preclusions at the workplace.
I have also tried to answer the question, can you fire an employee for not wearing a mask? I have even talked about some reasons behind not wearing a mask that may be accepted as exceptions and can be considered. I hope this article was of help to you and wish you the best of luck with your upcoming project.