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January 22, 2021

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California Issues Employer COVID-19 Playbook Guidance for Enforcing Mask Requirements

 The State of California and many California counties mandate the use of face coverings in the workplace and elsewhere. California considers the issue important enough to include a section entitled “Guidance for Employers and Workers in Enforcing Mask Requirements” in its “COVID-19 Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening,” newly released on July 24, 2020.

In the guidance, California emphasizes deescalating the situation when workers encounter coworkers or members of the public who are not wearing a mask and minimizing the risk of workplace violence. In doing so, the guidance recommends that employers train their workers on how to handle these types of situations before they arise. The guidance also advises employees not to approach coworkers or members of the public, such as customers, in order to enforce mask requirements. Instead, the guidance suggests that employees report such situations to supervisors. In turn, the guidance advises supervisors to consult with their human resources departments in the event that a supervisor is unsure as to how to handle the situation.

In addition, the guidance recommends that employers “[s]peak with a calm voice … and communicate with posture and expression that the person will be respected.” The guidance suggests using phrases such as, “If you don’t have a face covering, we’d be happy to provide one (if available)” and “Following the guidelines (on face coverings or distancing) can protect you and everyone else, so we ask that you follow them.”

Finally, the guidance notes that “limited circumstances” may exist in which an employer may need to engage employees or customers who claim disability-related reasons for not being able to wear a mask. The guidance suggests that employers engage in a process with these persons to determine if an accommodation exists that is effective in maintaining workplace safety.

© 2020, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 210



About this Author

Charles Thompson, Ogletree Deakins Law Firm, Employment Law Attorney

Charles L. Thompson IV counsels and defends employers in wrongful termination, discrimination, and other employment-related matters.  These areas include trade secrets and unfair competition, California and federal leaves of absence, ADA compliance, and wage and hour compliance.

Charles also represents employers in traditional labor law matters. He advises and represents employers in collective bargaining. He also represents employers in matters before the National Labor Relations Board, including in unfair labor practice and representation...