The do’s and don’ts of facemasks at work

Wednesday September 2, 2020

The use of facemasks has been ambiguous since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The rules differ from state to state and even between industries. So, what can and can’t you do regarding the use of facemasks for employees and customers?

Current guidelines around wearing facemasks

Nationally, the Federal government doesn’t have a policy that requires healthy people to wear facemasks. However, in some industries, like healthcare, facemasks are mandatory as a control measure against COVID19.

In Victoria, where the state government is grappling with an outbreak, facemasks are now mandatory, with a few exceptions. Children under 12 are not required to wear facemasks, neither do people with a medical condition or people who don’t wear one for professional reasons, such as childcare workers.

In NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian strongly recommends wearing facemasks in enclosed spaces or where social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as on public transport and in supermarkets. However, she has not made it mandatory.

Can businesses set facemask rules for customers and employees?

The simple answer is yes. Australian law states that occupiers and landowners can legally take reasonable steps to protect employees and customers while they are on their private property. In other words, businesses can legally make wearing a facemask a condition of entry for both employees and customers.

What responsibilities does the business have if enforcing the use of facemasks?

If you are making facemasks compulsory for employees and customers, you must provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put a facemask on, how to wear it, remove it, and dispose of it/wash it (depending on whether the facemasks are single-use or reusable).

Even if employees are wearing facemasks, it is still essential to practice good hygiene, as well as social distancing where possible. A COVID Risk Assessment will help you define the safety needs of your business.

Customer service and facemasks

As an employer, you need to take into consideration any barriers staff may experience, such as difficulty communicating with customers while wearing facemasks, and how to handle customers who are either exempt or refuse to wear a facemask.

In these situations, special training and signage are extremely useful tools to support your customer service employees.

Being fair and equitable

Businesses need to use common sense and courtesy when implementing and enforcing rules around wearing facemasks. Keep in mind that the law protects us against discriminatory behaviour. People who don’t wear facemasks because of their religion, a medical condition or disability should be treated fairly and courteously.

If your business has made facemasks a condition of entry, you may need to make alternative arrangements for people who have a valid reason for not wearing one.

The importance of communication

You must ensure your policies around facemasks and COVID safety measures are clearly communicated to employees and any breaches dealt with by following fair procedures.

Consultation and keeping a clear line of communication between management and staff will also help facilitate conversations around the challenges that may arise and how best to handle them.

If you find you need a hand with:

  • Your policies and procedures around wearing facemasks
  • Completing a COVID Risk Assessment
  • Managing the complexities of your HR during this time

We are here to help.

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