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Legal Alert

New OSHA Guidance For Cloth Face Coverings in the Workplace

June 11, 2020

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") published new guidance for using cloth face coverings (face masks) in the workplace this week.

New OSHA Guidance: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions on Face Coverings

Key Takeaways:

  • OSHA emphasizes that face masks are not personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not a substitute for surgical masks or respirators.
  • Face masks are not required in the workplace, but OSHA recommends that employers encourage their use, and an employer may choose to require face masks. Requiring face masks would help satisfy the employer's general duty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

Recommended Next Steps:

If employers require employees to wear face masks in the workplace, employers should:

  • Provide the face masks to employees at no charge.
  • Train employees on the proper care and use of face masks.
    • Instructions for care should include how to properly wash face masks and when to replace face masks.
    • Instructions for use should state when a mask is required and how to properly wear and adjust the mask.
    All instructions should be clear and easy-to-understand.

    Additional Resource: CDC: Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19
  • Recognize that face masks are only one measure used to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should take other administrative and engineering control measures such as requiring social distancing or installing physical barriers, e.g. clear plastic sneeze guards.

    Additional Resource: OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

If employers do not require face masks in the workplace, employers should respect employees' choice to wear a face mask. Minnesota Executive Order 20-54 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate or retaliate against an employee who wears their own protective gear if the employee reasonably believes the protective gear will protect them, their coworkers, or the public from harm. However, there is a limit to what an employee can wear. The employer does not need to tolerate protective gear that violates industry standards or the employer's own policies related to health, safety, or decency.

We Can Help

Please contact Maslon's Labor & Employment Group if you have questions related to face masks or other return-to-work safety measures.


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