Wearing face masks in and around many workplaces will be mandated at least through the end of the year. Your employer may not require that you wear a mask while socially distancing at your desk or alone in a vehicle. But moving around a workplace or worksite and being within conversational distance with coworkers, clients or customers could be another story.
“Those who work in medical environments and highly regulated fields like construction sites or manufacturing facilities must adhere to strict government-regulated guidelines,” says The HT Group Founder and CEO Mark Turpin. “For the rest of the workforce, the art of masking up can be subjective, and the rules can vary greatly from employer to employer. Before stepping foot into your workplace, you need to know the current local guidelines and how your employer is interpreting them.”
But we know the uncertainty doesn’t stop there. We’ve compiled some tips addressing the most popular questions we’ve gotten from employees and job candidates about masking up at work.
What kind of mask should I wear?
You’ll need to start with your employers’ recommendation. No face mask can claim to keep you 100% safe, and many face masks sold online make fraudulent claims. For instance, any disposable masks marked as “medical grade” surgical masks sold to the public through a site like Amazon that claims to be FDA approved isn’t. The FDA doesn’t approve face masks; it only “clears” them for sale.
And what about those KN95 cone-shaped masks? They’ve become popular replacements for N95 masks for the general public. The KN95 designation signifies that the mask was made in and certified by China. But, again, counterfeit KN95 masks are everywhere. The best course of action when choosing a face mask is to:
- Assume that any disposable mask you’re able to purchase on your own isn’t truly medical grade or N95 quality.
- Be realistic about the level of protection you can get from reusable cloth masks as well. When wearing, washing, and caring for reusable cloth masks, follow CDC guidance.
If face masks hurt or irritate your skin, talk to your employer about alternatives. For instance, if employer-issued face masks include ear loops that hurt your ears, ask if a headband extender could be used (like this one made by an Austin 8th grader on his 3D printer) or see if you can switch to a different type of mask (like these popular ones from Austin-based Savilino, which fasten around the head).
Are any individuals exempt from mask laws?
You may have heard that Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers exemptions for certain individuals when it comes to following face mask laws. The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that cards, flyers, and other documents bearing its seal and claiming that individuals are exempt from face mask requirements are fraudulent. Currently, the ADA doesn’t provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with face mask laws.
That being said, some situations and circumstances may make it hard to wear a mask. The CDC mentions a few possible exceptions that can be discussed with your employer. They include for anyone who has trouble breathing, who is unable to remove a mask without assistance, who is working around someone deaf or hard of hearing, or who may be engaged in high-intensity activities or working in extreme heat.
We don’t know how long face masks will be standard-issue in most workplaces. There’s little control over that. What you can control, however, is how you respond to the situation.
“Address your concerns with your employer,” Turpin says. “They’re still figuring things out and charting their best path forward. Cooperation and feedback from employees are necessary for them to succeed.”
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