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Ask the Expert: Employee Refuses to Wear Face Mask

Toby Graham /

Q: What should we do if an employee refuses to wear a face covering?

A: As more employers develop face covering policies to minimize the spread of COVID-19, this is becoming an increasingly common concern. The situation is not only a matter of compliance with state and federal rules, but also a question of personal responsibilities and beliefs.

First, determine the reason why: Why is the individual refusing to wear a mask? Speak to the employee privately, and have an open conversation. Find out if their reason is protected by law—for instance, if it’s a medical or religious reason.

If the employee refuses to wear a mask for a medical reason, then you’ll need to offer accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (For more information and guidance about ADA compliance, get in touch with KPA.)

If it’s for a religious reason or another protected reason, consider working with the employee to figure out a solution. Find an alternative that will work for them but doesn’t discriminate against them or anyone else in the workplace. This should be an interactive process, as mandated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If a solution isn’t immediately obvious or viable, continue the conversation. Explain why the company has decided to implement a face covering policy, work on reasoning with them, and find out if there’s any common ground you share. Think about their potential concerns. Try to stay nonjudgmental and unbiased, listen, and keep an open mind. In some cases, you may be able to provide a solution that meets the employee’s needs. Other times, just explaining thoroughly why you implemented a face covering policy is enough for an employee to change their behavior.

If the employee still refuses at this point, it may be time to proceed with disciplinary action. Again, be sure to run through all available alternatives before this—try to find out why the employee isn’t complying, reason with them, find common ground, and work something out with the person individually. But ultimately, if none of this works—and the refusal has no medical or religious grounds—the employee is violating workplace policy. Perhaps they need to be written up or sent home until they comply with the policy. Whatever your disciplinary procedures look like, they should be appropriate to the violation, consistent, and well-thought-out ahead of time.

Returning to work doesn’t have to be complicated.

This is only one of the myriad concerns employers and employees face during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. You can count on KPA and our consulting, software, and training solutions to keep your employees safe, compliant, and productive as people return to work. Contact us.

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