The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has updated its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding workplace safety and addressing topics related to COVID-19, including whether workers should wear a cloth face covering while at work per the CDC’s recommendations.

OSHA generally advises, yes.  The FAQs state the following:

“OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work.  Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) without knowing it (i.e., those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others.  This is a known source control.”

Further, cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing according to the OSHA FAQs and employers still need to ensure social distancing measures are present in the workplace.

Regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), OSHA further clarifies that cloth face coverings are not considered PPE and are not intended to be used when workers need PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards.  Thus, OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide the cloth face coverings to employees.  OSHA has also acknowledged that face coverings may not be appropriate in all work environments or during certain job tasks (e.g., because they could become contaminated or exacerbate heat illness) and advises that those employers can provide other PPE, such as face shields and/or surgical masks.

OSHA’s FAQs also reiterate an employee’s entitlement to a safe workplace and that Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits retaliation against workers for raising safety concerns, including concerns related to COVID-19.

OSHA encourages employees who believe they are being exposed to COVID-19 or who believe their employer is not taking appropriate steps to protect them from exposure at work, to first discuss those concerns with their supervisor or employer before filing a complaint with OSHA.

For more information on this or any related topic, please contact one of our labor and employment attorneys.