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Mandatory Face Coverings: Everything Employers Need To Know

Published September 15, 2021 - [email protected]
workplace with face coverings

A well-fitted, clean face covering is essential to help stop the spread of COVID-19.  Face coverings are currently mandatory for employees who are drivers of taxi or ride share vehicles and public transport at all NZ Alert Levels, and for employees involving customer contact at a business or service at Alert Levels 2,3 and 4. As an Employer, you are required to comply with public health orders to fulfil your health and safety obligations in the workplace. 

In this post we explain why ensuring your employees have the correct face covering protection is crucial to avoiding issues and keep your staff and customers safe.  We’ll explain how to make sure you adhere to the restrictions correctly, fulfilling your health and safety obligations, and help you protect your staff and customers.

What are My Employer Obligations for Employee Face Covering Protection?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), businesses and services have an obligation to ensure, as is reasonably practical that the work environment is without risks to the health and safety of any person. This means ensuring that all employees wear face coverings in the workplace if a health direction is in place. Even if there is no mandatory face covering restrictions for your workplace, a health and safety risk assessment, (that you conduct in consultation with your workers), may conclude that wearing face coverings is a reasonable control measure to manage the risk of infectious respiratory disease transmission.

You will need to provide any items of PPE such as face masks to your employees and ensure any workers (such as independent contractors) or visitors know and adhere to any requirements. The type of face covering used will depend on the setting and it is your responsibility to provide training, instruction and correct information on how to handle the appropriate use, storage, decontamination and disposal of the face covering where a government health direction is in place, (or your risk assessment concludes that wearing face coverings is a reasonably necessary control measure).

How Do Employers Ensure We Comply to The Face Covering Restrictions Correctly?

With active restrictions, it’s essential you regularly check up to-date information on the Government’s COVID-19 website.  Conduct a risk assessment in consultation with your workers with respect to COVID-19.  Take into account how people move around the workplace, as well as if there are any vulnerable workers in your business.

When wearing a face covering is mandatory, it’s important to communicate this clearly.  For employers, a written communication to staff can be a reassuring record of their responsibility to enforce the public health order.

As part of your primary duty of care to keep your staff safe, employers should ensure employees have a clean supply of face coverings available, and it’s vital they are properly informed on the safe handling, use, storage, decontamination, and disposal of face coverings.

Providing health and safety protective equipment, (such as face coverings) can be an effective control measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and comply with health and safety obligations in the workplace. As part of a business continuity plan, you should source and have face coverings available.

What If My Employee Refuses to Wear A Face Covering?

Firstly discuss with the employee the reason for their refusal. An exemption may apply allowing the employee to be at work and not wear a face covering.  So do seek expert advice, at Employsure we are here 24/7 with free initial advice.  You may need to consider alternative solutions to face coverings to meet your health and safety obligations,( for example providing them with a physical barrier, such as a plastic screen).  It’s recommended to seek expert advice on alternatives for individual employee’s health and safety, as employers need to balance an individual needs while ensuring that their refusal does not cause the business to breach its WHS and public health directive obligations. At Employsure we offer tailored expert advice to ensure a fair and safe workplace for all.

If the employee refuses to wear a face covering and has a valid reason, consider alternative duties for the employee, or if the employee is able to work from home, you can allow them to do so.  If working from home is absolutely not an option, then consider asking the employee if they would like to take a period of annual leave (if accrued) or unpaid leave.

If the employee steadfastly refuses to wear a face covering and an agreement cannot be reached, employers may be in a position to initiate a disciplinary process. At Employsure we offer free initial advice 24/7.

Remember it’s your responsibility to keep your employees safe and minimize health and safety risks so far as reasonably practical. Gather as much expert knowledge as you can, be armed with up to date information to adhere to your employer obligations. 

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About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 30,000 clients in ANZ. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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