CDC Recommends Face Masks: What Employers Need To Know via Laner Muchin, Ltd.

Now that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) has recommended that the public wear cloth face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we anticipate that employees will increasingly seek to use face masks in the workplace. Employers that do not normally provide face masks or other protective equipment should keep in mind that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has published standards governing personal protective equipment (“PPE”) and respiratory protection that can apply when an employee asks to wear a face mask, even voluntarily. Although we do not anticipate that OSHA will be aggressively chasing employers that are making the best of a difficult situation in good faith, we wanted to provide you with FAQ guidance on the applicable standards, so that you do not get inadvertently tripped up on compliance with applicable requirements.  You can also review our updated FAQs regarding other OSHA-related concerns arising in response to COVID-19 here

Q: Can an employer require employees to wear face masks in the workplace?

A: Yes, of course. But the emphasis in the question is on “require” for a reason. Many face masks, including dust masks and the N95 respirator, are subject to requirements of both: (1) the OSHA PPE Standard and (2) the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard.

Under the OSHA PPE Standard, which applies to all PPE (e.g., face masks, gloves, smocks, etc.), before an employer can require an employee to put on PPE, such a face mask, the employer must, among other things, perform a hazard assessment, consider other alternative options to protect employees (e.g., install plexiglass barriers between the worker and the customer in a retail business, as some grocery stores have done), identify and provide appropriate PPE for employees, train employees in the use and care of PPE, clean and maintain PPE, including replacing worn or damaged PPE, and prepare a plan that is periodically reviewed, among other steps, including employee specific requirements. The employer pays all costs for the PPE as well.

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