As the scientific community coalesces around a consensus regarding the beneficial use of face masks, while at the same time, the divisive nature of this topic continues to grab political headlines, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health has expanded the face covering mandate in the Commonwealth. Citing the success of prior mitigation strategies in slowing the spread of the COVID-19, Dr. Rachel Levine has mandated the use of face coverings in accordance with her Order issued on July 1, 2020.
Individuals are required to wear face coverings if they are outdoors and unable to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others who are not members of their household. Additionally, face coverings must be worn in any indoor location where members of the public are generally permitted. Regarding workplaces specifically, compliance is ordered of anyone when, (1) interacting with members of the public; (2) working in a space where food is prepared, packaged for sale, or distributed; and (3) walking through common areas or in any room where other people are present and physical distancing is not possible.
Several exceptions to the expanded face covering requirements apply, including (1) medical conditions involving respiratory issues that impede breathing, mental health conditions or disabilities; and (2) safety hazards caused by use of a mask. While individuals are not required to show documentation that an exception applies under the Department of Health Order, employers must remain mindful of competing, overlapping and often conflicting laws and regulations.
Under the ADA, for example, employers are entitled to documentation from an employee’s medical provider supporting a request for an accommodation. Furthermore, OSHA has issued guidance consistent with the CDC’s recommendations on the use of face masks in the workplace. Therefore, it is certainly feasible that an OSHA investigator could ask for documentation supporting exceptions to a face covering policy where complaints of an unsafe work environment have been filed.
For additional situations where face coverings are required and more detail on other exceptions, you may find the complete Department of Health Order at https://www.governor.pa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/20200701-SOH-Universal-Face-Coverings-Order.pdf
Should you encounter issues in your business regarding employees’ use of face masks, or if you desire assistance updating your policies, we encourage you to reach out to one of our attorneys in the Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638.