Question:

In past weeks, it’s just been four or five us in the office. Two of us wear masks when we’re around each other or any of our occasional drop-in visitors. The others refuse to wear masks or stay six feet away from the rest of us.

One is my boss. I love my job and the only time I asked him a general question about masks, he insisted he follows all CDC guidelines. When I asked if we would all begin wearing masks, he brandished old information from OSHA that says mask-wearing wasn’t essential.

I don’t want to risk a fight, but next week our office will be back to full staffing, minus anyone who’s been let go. I’m worried about my health. What can I do that won’t get me on my boss’s bad side?

Answer:

Your boss does not wear a mask because he doesn’t want to or doesn’t feel it’s necessary. That means you need to make him want to or convince him it’s necessary.

Start by understanding your boss’s position which, like many who ignore the CDC’s current guidelines, relies on old information. When we knew little about COVID when the pandemic began, public health officials didn’t universally endorse mask-wearing, in part because they wanted to ensure medical providers had sufficient access to personal protective equipment. That and other factors led mask-wearing to become a politicized, divisive issue.

We now know more concerning how effective masks are against COVID-19 spreading from asymptomatic individuals to those who then suffer gravely. According to multiple researchers, “nearly all droplets generated by speaking and talking were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp washcloth. In another experiment, scientists examined over 100 individuals with a respiratory infection” and discovered that masks reduce respiratory viruses carried by droplets and aerosols”1.

Attorney Eric Brown notes that while “the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been slow to issue regulatory guidance that addresses this area, OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires that employers furnish to each worker ‘employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.’ It is unlikely, however,” says Brown, “that a failure to wear a mask will violate this general policy other than in ‘high-risk’ place of employment.”

Brown adds that as an employee you “have other legal avenues you can pursue. If you fit a high-risk category because of a co-morbidity associated with COVID, you might request ‘reasonable accommodation’ to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID. Mask-wearing by fellow employees may be a ‘reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

You can also tell your boss the truth, which is you worry about your health. Because he feels comfortable he follows CDC guidelines, you can let him know the Center for Disease Control now encourages everyone to wear a face covering when near others to prevent speaking COVID-19. You can help him realize his lack of a face mask might worry customers and other employees who remain silent.

If you decide to take a greater risk, you can remind him his actions might give him liability for what results from the lack of mask-wearing in your work environment, whether it leads to an infection that shutters your office or an illness or death. As I referenced in my August 11th column, multiple Wall Street Journal articles detail lawsuits filed by both employees and their families allege employers failed to protect employees from COVID-19. 2

1https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/wearing-mask-has-become-politicized-science-says-it-shouldn-t-n1232604

2https://www.wsj.com/articles/families-file-first-wave-of-covid-19-lawsuits-against-companies-over-worker-deaths-11596137454#:~:text=Employers%20across%20the%20country%20are,the%20risks%20of%20reopening%20workplaces.

 

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at lynnewriter10@gmail.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

 

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6 thoughts on “My Boss Refuses to Wear a Face Mask

  1. This is quite the dilemma. Fact Company had a post this a.m. on men who don’t like to wear masks. They denied it was because they are hyper-masculine (though the discussion did everything but come out and say that), but said that the better way to try to get them to wear masks was to appeal to their self-image as a guardian and protector. You wear they mask to help guard and protect others from getting COVID, in case you’re infectious, and because you feel social responsibility to guard and protect. Hope the question poser is able to get some positive results.

  2. Susan, this is really interesting, I’d love you to send over the cite. I’d love to see how the discussion was flavored with the “hyper-masculine” individuals wouldn’t wear masks, and how the appeal is made to accountable individuals who are willing to be guardians and responsible protectors.

  3. It sounds like it is possible that this boss might “not care” about following the guidelines or about wearing a mask. However, it is important to consider that NOT everyone who doesn’t wear a mask “doesn’t care”. I would encourage people to avoid assuming that a lack of a mask equates to “not caring”.

    Many people, like me, have health issues that make wearing a mask difficult if not impossible, especially when needed for a full work day (and in my case it is impossible even for much shorter periods of time). And, no, if I were at my old job, I NEVER would have shared with anyone there that I wasn’t wearing a mask due to my health reasons. The people there were very judgemental to begin with, so giving them information about my **personal** health would have just given them ammo to use against me not just during the pandemic but afterward as well. I absolutely would have made up a bogus excuse to give them for not wearing a mask. And, even if my coworkers had been plain old neutral, I likely still would have been reluctant to share my **personal** health concerns with coworkers. Home stays at home and work stays at work.

    I am Canadian so do not know how US laws work, but I did find it interesting that the US Disabilities Act was mentioned. Does this act not also cover people whose actual, current health status prevents them from wearing masks? Do people with health issues like mine not count under that act? I know that these days we are rarely counted by people’s understanding and consideration – too many people see no mask and automatically judge us as uncaring and ignorant. But do your laws not do anything for those who are legitimately unable to wear a mask? Are there no accommodations for people who want and need to work but are unable to wear a mask?

    And, please, as human beings, could we at least entertain the thought that some (many) people care a great deal but are still unable to wear a mask? Those of us with these types of health issues were already dealing with enough (and more than enough) before the pandemic. It is worse now that health-care is more difficult to access and more difficult to travel to. Virtually all of us are facing added stressors due to covid-19; those with health concerns are often being hit even harder because we already were starting behind, and often our health concerns interact with what is going on in the world. And now, instead of just being judged for our health statuses alone, we are also being judged because those statuses are preventing us from wearing masks.

    Again, I would encourage people to avoid assuming that a lack of a mask equates to “not caring”.

    1. Hi, Susan, yes, the ADA protects those whose underlying medical conditions do not allow them to wear a mask. The question then becomes, what accommodation works for them and also works for everyone else in the workplace.

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