Q: I manage a small office in Massachusetts. There is a core group working in the office and then the rest of our employees are working remotely. The plan is to continue this arrangement until at least year-end. Most of the employees in our office are doing well. They are adhering to our social distancing requirements. Each person is either sitting in a private office, a vacant conference room or a corner in a quiet area of our office suite. There is one person who disregards our company requirement to wear a face covering. At first, I thought his colleagues were being alarmists. However, we have security cameras in common spaces and the footage shows that he completely disregards this requirement. I have talked to him a few times and he argues that he is wearing his mask but only removing it when he is in his private office with the door shut. He argues that he isn’t sick. The employees in the office are about to walk out. How can I make him understand?
A: Wow, just wow. First, you should ensure that he understands that this is a requirement for working at your company during this pandemic. I assume you have notified employees, either verbally, in writing or even with posted notices. I think we have all seen posted notices on doors that communicate the requirement to wear a face covering.
In the early stages of his pandemic, there was some confusion over the effectiveness of facial coverings. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), since early April, 2020, has strongly suggested wearing a face covering, especially when six feet of space between individuals is not possible.
I would remind your employee of this policy. Ensure that he does not have a medical condition which would exempt him from this requirement. My guess is that he would have already shared this medical condition with you. I would also let him know that you have security footage of him walking around in the common areas, without wearing a face covering. I would reiterate that your role is to operate your office in a safe and healthy manner, and one of those requirements includes wearing a facial covering in the common areas. Not all people with COVID-19 have symptoms.
Should your employee continue to ignore this requirement, you can take action including issuing a warning or even termination. Perhaps you could suggest that he work remotely. I would hope that an employee would understand that this requirement is to maintain good health and a safe workforce. You can also explain that other employees in the office have expressed concern. I would strongly communicate that a condition of his employment is to wear a facial covering and that he could be terminated. I am wondering if he does not understand that this is not an optional policy, but instead a mandate.
There are plenty of facial covering options. You could even have a supply of disposable mask options available in the event someone may forget their mask. We have a few clients who have a spare box of disposable masks for those who may not have a mask to wear while in the workplace.
Good luck in addressing this issue. All it takes is one person that doesn’t wear a mask, and you could have an outbreak in your office. Many COVID-19 positive people are asymptomatic.