News added on 14.09.2020

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Coronavirus

Wearing face coverings in the workplace

With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise again, the issue of wearing face coverings at work is becoming more topical. What health and safety obligations do you have towards your employees and can you force them to wear face coverings?

With some exceptions, the requirement to wear a face covering doesn’t extend to employees. This is because of your existing legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for staff, and to comply with that obligation in England you should follow the government’s COVID-19 Secure guidance (separate guidance is available for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). There are 14 different guides available covering a range of different types of workplace. Some of those guides state that staff should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to particular types of work such as in clinical settings or where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing, e.g. because employees need to work in very close proximity to their clients. Otherwise, where you are managing social distancing guidelines (two metres, or one metre with risk mitigation where two metres isn’t viable), additional PPE beyond what you usually wear isn’t beneficial and the guidance is clear that you shouldn’t encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against coronavirus. So, unless you’re in a situation where the risk of coronavirus transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is limited. That said, if any employees want to choose to wear a non-PPE face covering at work, you should support them to do so.

If your risk assessment does show that face masks and/or other forms of PPE are required to protect employees, or they’re mandatory in your particular type of workplace, you must provide it free of charge and then train employees in how to use it and monitor them to ensure appropriate use.

If an employee fails to wear PPE when they’re required to do so, subject to disability discrimination provisions, consider taking disciplinary action under the terms of your disciplinary procedure. Reasonable adjustments for any disabled employees who are unable to wear face masks on medical grounds might include allowing them to forego doing so, and possibly providing them with other suitable work which can be carried out in accordance with social distancing guidelines (with their agreement), or allowing them to work from home. You might also wish to discuss with them whether they would find it helpful to wear an exemption badge.

When conducting your COVID-19 Secure risk assessment, you should establish what face masks or other PPE (if any) you should be providing to employees as part of your duty to provide a safe working environment. If you’re maintaining social distancing, you shouldn’t encourage the precautionary use of PPE to protect against coronavirus, but you should generally allow workers to wear a non-PPE face covering if they wish to do so. If PPE is mandatory in your type of workplace, or required by your risk assessment, you can direct employees to wear it and take disciplinary action if they don’t. However, be careful if a disabled employee is unable to wear a face mask on medical grounds, as it could be indirect disability discrimination to discipline them, and you also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

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