Can we make our employees wear face masks when in the office?Posted in : First Tuesday Q&A NI on 4 August 2020
Public Health NI strongly advises individuals to think about wearing a face covering in particular circumstances, such as short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. It is anticipated that face masks could become compulsory in shops in Northern Ireland from 20 August 2020. However, there has been nothing to date that suggests face masks will also become compulsory in an office setting.
Employers in Northern Ireland must remember that they have a duty to provide a safe place of work for their staff under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. Therefore, it is possible that the wearing of face masks could be identified under an employer’s Covid-19 risk assessment as a means of ensuring compliance with this duty. For example, many businesses in the hospitality sector have introduced compulsory face coverings for their staff.
If, after conducting a Covid-19 risk assessment and assessing the specific guidance in place at that time, employers have identified face masks as a necessary requirement, they may be able to assert that this constitutes a reasonable management instruction. This means that if employers are met with resistance from their staff in this regard, they may be able to argue that failure to wear a mask is a breach of a reasonable management instruction that may be dealt with via disciplinary action. However, as this is a challenging and unprecedented situation, any objections to wearing face masks should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Please note that the advice regarding face masks is likely to develop throughout the coming weeks.
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