On November 18, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published an update to its “Frequently Asked Questions” to clarify it position on the use of cloth face coverings as personal protective equipment in the workplace. The need for clarification arose after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a scientific brief on November 10, 2020 finding that some cloth face coverings can reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns.
According to the OSHA update to its FAQ, “cloth face coverings are not considered PPE and cannot be used in place of respirators when respirators are otherwise required.” OSHA further explained that it continues to “strongly” encourage workers to wear face coverings when in close contact with others to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.
As the weather turns colder and the number of COVID cases is increasing, employers should strictly enforce masking rules in workplaces. Employees should be required to wear a face covering when in common areas or in close contact with others. Employees who are unable or unwilling to wear a mask for legitimate medical reasons can be offered a remote work option (or a transfer to a position with a remote work option) if feasible.