Can I Get Fired for Refusing to Wear a Face Mask?
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to temporarily shut-down, and forced many others to temporarily adopt a remote work environment. Now that businesses have opened back up and many workers are back onsite, some have questions about COVID-19 restrictions being enforced by their employers.
One question that some employees ask is, “can I get fired for refusing to wear a face mask?” Here, employment attorney Dan A. Atkerson goes over the factors that must be considered when answering this question for workers in Allen, TX, Plano, TX, Frisco, TX, and surrounding areas, as well as the options that employees have if they don’t want to wear a face mask at work.
Does My Employer Have a Right to Fire Me for Face Mask Refusal?
Like many others, Texas is an at will employment state. In at will states, both the employer and employee have the right to terminate employment at any time, without providing a reason, as long as employment laws are not violated.
While employees are provided many protections under local and federal employment laws, employers have the right to implement safety precautions that are seen to be in the best interest of their employees. A face mask policy is considered a legal safety precaution, which means that employees can face discipline or termination if they refuse to comply with an employer’s face mask policy.
Are There Exceptions?
There are a few potential exceptions that may make certain employees exempt from face mask policies. If a worker refuses to wear a face mask for medical reasons, religious reasons, or safety reasons, their employer is legally obligated to consider whether reasonable accommodations can be made to allow them to do their job.
If an employee has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face mask, or makes it too difficult to breathe properly in a face mask, they should report it to their employer as soon as possible. This type of medical condition could qualify them for exemption under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A sincerely held religious belief is another possible exemption for a face covering policy. Workers who are opposed to wearing a mask on religious grounds need to discuss their belief with their employer and make a request for reasonable accommodation.
Job Performance/Safety Concerns
In some cases a face covering may make it difficult for a worker to perform job duties, or to perform job duties safely. For instance, a face mask may prevent someone from hearing clearly (or from reading lips), it may fog up glasses and make it difficult to see clearly, or it can create a safety hazard by preventing workers from smelling dangerous fumes. If a face mask impedes workplace safety, reasonable accommodations should be made.
When face masks are refused for medical, religious, or safety reasons, employees must make a written request for reasonable accommodations. Potential accommodations for a face mask policy may include:
- An altered work schedule (so the employee works when fewer workers are around)
- A secluded work area
- Remote work agreement
- Providing an alternate face covering that doesn’t interfere with job functions
If reasonable accommodations cannot be made, employers may still have the right to terminate employment.
If your employer has a face mask policy in place and you have questions about your right to refusal, attorney Dan A. Atkerson would be happy to discuss the details of your situation, as well as potential legal options. To schedule a personal consultation, contact our law firm online, or call us at (214) 383-3606.