- As employers plan for reopening, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work," it said in a June 10 guidance.
- Employers may decide whether to implement varying rules for different circumstances, OSHA said, pointing out that masks can sometimes create a hazard, conflict with other required equipment or create a barrier to accessible communication. In such situations, an employer could allow face shields or clear partitions, it said.
- Additionally, because cloth face coverings aren't viewed as providing protection against exposure to occupational hazards, OSHA's standards do not require employers to provide them, the agency said.
As employers devise reopening plans, masks are just one factor to consider.
Many are banking on temperature screening and on-site testing as part of contact tracing efforts. Some are redesigning workspaces to allow for social distancing and improve ventilation, at the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; others say a vast number of workers will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future.
These plans come with compliance questions, too. HR professionals will, for example, need to determine whether time spent in screenings is compensable, and how medical information obtained will be stored. They also may face accommodation requests related to the pandemic; in fact, litigation on the issue has already begun. A Massachusetts engineer with a disability that put him at high risk for a severe novel coronavirus infection refused to return to work; he was fired and alleged in a June 2 lawsuit that the employer refused to grant him a disability accommodation, in violation of state law.
Regardless of a plan's details, timely and transparent communication is key, experts say. "Employees would rather their employer help prevent the spread of disease than be left in the dark," Sirmara Campbell, chief human resources officer at LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm, recently told HR Dive in an interview. "If employers communicate effectively and employees know their organization is looking out for their health and wellbeing, they will be grateful for the transparency."