The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend wearing face masks or face coverings when social distancing cannot be practiced. Everyone should wear a face covering if they are around other people with whom they do not share a household, including at various types of workplaces. Masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace from others who have it, including those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and may not realize they can transmit the virus. If you have returned to work during the pandemic, it is important to know what your rights are if others are not wearing masks in your workplace and what you should do if you cannot wear one for medical reasons.
People Not Wearing Masks at Work: What You Should Know About Employee Rights
Massachusetts and many other states are issuing guidelines for safe workplace re-openings based on CDC guidance. State-specific guidance in Massachusetts says that all individuals over the age of 2 must wear a mask or a face covering in public places. This order affects “all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations open to the public.” Massachusetts employees should be able to expect that coworkers and customers in their workplaces will adhere to state law, which is guided by CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections for a safe workplace.
Masks protect others by preventing the spread of respiratory droplets and aerosols that may spread COVID-19. The CDC emphasizes that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people can spread the virus without knowing that they are doing so, and masks can greatly reduce the risk of spread.
If your employer is not requiring masks or is permitting employees or customers to enter your workplace in which social distancing is not possible, you may have the right to refuse to work. According to OSHA, “if you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful,” you should bring the issue to your employer’s attention. If the employer will not correct the hazardous working condition, you have a right to refuse to work if you are doing so in good faith. You should then immediately file a claim with OSHA with or without the assistance of a lawyer. If you face retaliation from your employer, you should contact OSHA immediately. Federal law prohibits retaliation against you for exercising your right to a safe and healthy workplace.
Needing an Accommodation
If wearing a mask could result in health problems for you due to a disability, you may be able to request a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Examples of people with disabilities who may be able to seek an accommodation include but are not limited to:
- Worker with a health condition that makes it difficult to breathe while wearing a mask;
- Worker with a health condition who requires supplemental oxygen; or
- Worker who communicates through lip-reading.
Finding a reasonable accommodation can be an interactive process that is a dialogue between the worker and HR or a supervisor. There may be alternatives, such as a face shield or working from home. If you have requested a reasonable accommodation, you should know that the ADA prohibits retaliation. If you do face retaliation, you may be able to file a claim.
Contact an Employment Lawyer for Assistance
If you have returned to work in Massachusetts or anywhere else in the country, it is important to know that you have a right to safe working conditions. You should also know that the ADA allows for accommodations for workers who have a disability that prevents them from safely wearing a mask at work. If you have questions or concerns, or if you need help filing a claim, a Massachusetts employment law attorney can speak with you today. Contact Rodman Employment Law online or call us at 617-820-5250.