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May 21, 2020

Q&A: Address worker concerns about cloth face coverings

Q&ACOVID-19Safety and Health 

Question: We’ll be requiring employees to wear cloth face coverings at work, but we’re worried about pushback. What do we need to know?

Answer: With the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for people to wear cloth face coverings in public and at work, it seems that these fancy portable sneeze guards are going to be with us for a while. The CDC says manufacturers that require cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the workplace should ensure they:

  • Fit over the nose and mouth and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face;
  • Are secured with ties or ear loops;
  • Include multiple layers of fabric;
  • Allow for breathing without restriction;
  • Can be laundered using the warmest appropriate water setting and machine-dried daily after the shift, without damage or change to shape. A clean cloth face covering should be used each day;
  • Aren’t used if they become wet or contaminated;
  • Are replaced with clean ones, provided by the employer, as needed;
  • Are handled as little as possible to prevent transferring infectious materials to or from the cloth; and
  • Aren’t worn with or instead of respiratory protection when respirators are needed.

You can allow employees to bring their own, but we recommend that you have cloth face coverings available for employees if they don’t have access to one, they forget theirs at home, or their face covering gets soiled or wet during the workday. If employees want to bring their own face coverings, you should encourage them to bring at least two so that they can wear a clean face covering after their meal period. If they’ll be taking their face coverings off to drink water, eat, or smoke during breaks, that increases the number of times they’ll be handling the face coverings so you may want to make even more clean ones available if needed. Below are some tips and tricks to address common problems.

Fogging up eyeglasses: The moisture from exhaling can cause glasses to fog up, especially if the face covering fits poorly and allows air to flow through the top of it. An ophthalmologist suggests a few solutions including:

  • Try a different type of face covering and/or a different type of eyeglasses. Glasses that rest more closely on the face tend to block the moisture more effectively;
  • Ensure the face covering fits snuggly over the nose;
  • Purchase an anti-fogging solution that can be sprayed onto the inner surface of the glasses, or purchase anti-fogging wipes;
  • Wash glasses with soapy water, shake off excess, and allow to air dry; or
  • Use tape across the top of the face covering, but be careful to use a tape that doesn’t irritate the skin. Or try applying an anti-slip glasses wax like Nerdwax on the bridge of the face covering.

Uncomfortable behind the ears or on the skin: Wearing a cloth face covering (or a true face mask) all day can chafe or become uncomfortable where it rubs on the face.

  • Try a different style of face covering – both ear loops and ties are permissible; or
  • Use an extender device such as an unfolded paperclip, a 3D printed “ear saver”, or other creative hacks to hold the straps.

Difficult to breathe or hot and sweaty: With warmer temperatures on the way, and physical exertion required for many jobs, you may hear complaints that it’s hard to breathe.

  • Try a different style of face covering;
  • Don’t use face coverings that contain a “filter,” which can restrict breathing more than is necessary;
  • Ensure that the covering is clean and dry; wet fabric is not only more difficult to breathe through but also less effective;
  • Offer clean replacement face coverings as necessary;
  • In hot weather, give employees plenty of opportunity for rest breaks;
  • Consider setting up cooling stations to allow employees a chance to cool off; and
  • If the employee has an underlying disability that makes it impossible to wear a cloth face covering, consider whether you can make an effective reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See our Legal Guide, ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process and Model Form, ADA: Letter to Health Care Provider.

Taking it off to eat or drink: Despite the creative face coverings available with straw holes or zippers to eat, we don’t recommend them in the workplace. They don’t comply with CDC requirements. The purpose of a cloth face covering is to protect others from the wearer’s germs; if the wearer’s breath passes through the hole, the virus can hitch a ride and spread.

  • Make sure that employees keep worn face coverings off of tables and common surfaces in the break rooms;
  • Determine what employees should do with their face coverings while eating or drinking. You could tell employees to store them in a personal locker or fold them up and put them in a pocket; and
  • Consider offering or requiring a clean face covering after meal periods.

Still need help? Contact your Vigilant safety professional with any questions about fit and safety compliance, and contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney with any questions about disability accommodations, employee complaints, or employee relations issues.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.