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Face Coverings vs Face Shields: Commonly Asked Questions

June 15, 2020

  1. Question: If an employee claims that they are medically unable to wear a face covering, what documentation or standard should the business owner/manager apply to verify that?
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation:Executive Order (EO) 2020-114 establishes the current requirements for the protection of employees. Under Section 1(g) of EO 2020-114, employers are required to have employees wear a face covering when employees cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace. The plain language of the EO does not contain an exception to the requirement that employees wear a face covering when unable to meet the six feet distancing. However, employers have an additional obligation to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If an employee reports to the employer that he/she has a medical condition that makes it so he/she cannot wear a face covering, this would trigger the business’ obligation to engage the reasonable accommodation evaluation process outlined by the ADA. Under the ADA, an employee would be expected to present medical documentation from a medical provider regarding his/her medical condition and a restriction of being unable to wear a face covering. Per the ADA process, if the employee provides a legitimate medical reason for not being able to wear a face mask or covering, reasonable accommodations could include the following:•Providing the employee an unpaid leave of absence until face masks or covering are no longer required at work;•Allowing the employee to work remotely; or•Providing an alternative face mask or covering that is allowed by the employee’s medical condition.In order to avoid MIOSHA enforcement action for an employer’s failure to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19, MIOSHA would require that the employer be able to show documentation that the employer has adhered to the ADA requirements by obtaining the medical documentation, including work restriction, from the employee to  support the medical inability to wear a face covering. If an alternative type of covering were authorized for use by the employer as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, MIOSHA would also expect that the employer provide documentation to indicate it has:
      1. Authorized the alternative covering for the employee as a reasonable accommodation under the AD
      2. Evaluated the use of the alternative covering in the context of its impact on employee risk to exposure to COVID-19 under its preparedness and response plan
      3. Performed any otherwise required hazard and PPE assessments related to the employee’s use of the alternative covering;
      4. Determined that the wearing of the alternative type of covering does not create a hazardous exposure to the employee which has not already been addressed.
  1. Follow-up Question to 1: Can a face shield be used as an alternative to a face covering?
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation:If the employee is able to supply the employer with medical documentation demonstrating his/her medical condition and medical restriction from being able to wear a face covering, the employer has granted the employee a reasonable accommodation, and the employer has determined a face shield does not create any new or different hazard for the employee in the work tasks or operations performed, then a face shield may be used in alternative to a face covering for the medically affected employee. For any employee who cannot establish a medical need or has not been granted a reasonable accommodation under the ADA by their employer, a face shield may not be used in alternative to a face covering.
  2. Question: In EO 114 it states:
    “Require face coverings to be worn when employees cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace, and consider face shields when employees cannot consistently maintain three feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace.”

    In the case of employees less than 3 feet apart, does this mean face shield plus face covering? Or does that mean face shield instead of a face covering?
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation: If the employees are less than 3 feet apart, a face shield in addition to a face covering is to be considered to provide added protection to both employees from the increased proximity. 
  3. Question: Under EO-2020-115(6)(b): Any individual who leaves his or her home or place of residence must:(b) Wear a face covering over his or her nose and mouth—such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief—when in any enclosed public space, unless the individual is unable medically to tolerate a face covering. What constitutes an enclosed public space?
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation:An enclosed public space is a space that accepts entry by the public into the space and that is enclosed.   
  4. Follow Up Question to No.4: If a building contains an area that is open to the public in addition to private space which is not accessible by the public, is a face covering required to be worn by an employee throughout the entire building? 
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation: EO 2020-115 applies to protections required by businesses and members of the public in order to eliminate or minimize exposures to COVID-19 from members of the public either toward fellow members of the public or toward employees who are performing work for businesses or operations. Therefore, under 2020-115, aface covering is required to be worn by a member of the public while the member of the public is inside a space that is both enclosed and open to them and other members of the general public. If there is non-public space in the building, i.e., space which is not open to the general public and is only accessible to employees or contractors, for instance a stock room, manager’s office, etc., the face covering requirements contained in EO 2020-114 would apply to the employees or contractors in this non-public area.
  5. Question: in the context of Offices, Section 7(d) of EO 2020-114 states Offices must: Require face coverings in shared spaces, including during in-person meetings and in restrooms and hallways.
    When is a space considered a “shared space”?
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation:A space is “shared” when the space meets all of the following criteria:
      1. It is accessible to or utilized by multiple individuals at the same time;
      2. 6 feet of distancing cannot be maintained between individuals within the space;
      3. the space lacks physical barriers separating individuals from contact with each other during their presence in the space.   
  6. Follow-Up Question to No. 6: Is an office area containing employees in cubicle-styled configurations a “shared space”? Are employees required to wear face coverings while inside their cubicle?
    • MIOSHA Enforcement Interpretation:A cubicle configuration which allows 6 feet of distance between employees or which contain walls or barriers that separate the individual employees from direct contact with other employees, is not a shared space, provided each cubicle houses a single employee. Hallways or aisles between sections of cubicles would be shared spaces. Employees working inside their own cubicle where there is 6 feet of distance or a physical barrier between other employees, are not required to wear a face covering while inside their cubicle. A face covering will be required whenever the employee in a cubicle-styled space receives other employees or visitors in their space where there is less than 6 feet of distance or no physical barrier between the employee and the visitor.
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