Can I Get Fired for Refusing to Wear a Face Mask?
By Gregory Thyberg on February 22, 2022
As the country continues to see rising cases of COVID-19, many counties and states are reimplementing mask mandates. Even in areas where mask mandates are not in place publicly, it is becoming common for employers to implement their own face mask policy.
Employment law attorney Gregory Thyberg is contacted regularly by workers in Sacramento, CA, and surrounding areas asking, “Can I get fired for refusing to wear a face mask?” Here we go over the legality of face mask mandates at work, and discuss situations in which an employee may be able to deny a face mask without facing consequences from their employer.
Do Employers Have the Right to Implement Face Mask Mandates?
When mask mandates were first introduced, many people wondered if it was within an employer’s legal right to set a mask mandate at work. In short, the answer is yes. Employers can require employees to wear a face mask at work, particularly if the mandate is being implemented as a preventive measure in the spread of COVID-19.
Not only are private employer mask mandates allowed, but they are currently in line with California’s statewide mask policy. Starting December 15, 2021, the California Department of Public Health mandated that everyone (regardless of vaccination status) wear a mask in indoor public spaces and workspaces. The mandate was set to expire in January, but was recently extended to February 15, 2022.
Can I Be Fired if I Don’t Comply?
If individuals are unable to comply with a mask mandate for whatever reason, we strongly encourage them to speak to their employer. If an employee refuses to wear a mask without a valid reason, they may face discipline, which could include termination.
Sacramento employees who are facing disciplinary action should ask to see their employer’s written mask mandate. The employer should be able to provide a clear policy that outlines the reasons for the mask mandate, how the mandate is being implemented, and consequences for a failure to comply.
Situations Where a Face Mask May Be Refused
Generally speaking, employees are legally obligated to comply with a mask mandate (or risk facing consequences). However, there are certain exceptions. An employee may have legal grounds for refusing the use of a face mask under the following circumstances:
- The mask interferes with the employee’s job, or makes it more difficult to perform essential job duties
- The mask creates a workplace hazard, for instance, the mask could get caught in machinery, or the mask prevents an employee from smelling a hazard
- The mask exacerbates a medical condition (employers may ask for documentation from a doctor)
In any of the above mentioned situations, employees should discuss their refusal with their employer and consider possible reasonable accommodations that could be made to allow the employee to continue performing their job duties.
If you have concerns about an employer’s mask mandate, and would like to learn more about your legal options regarding compliance, employment law attorney Gregory Thyberg can answer any questions you may have. To schedule a personal consultation, send us a message online, or call our Sacramento law firm at (916) 204-9173.