Can Employers Fire Workers Who Refuse to Wear Face Masks?

Peninsula Team

October 08 2020

Face masks help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. In many cities, like Toronto and Edmonton, face masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces and workplaces open to public.  

Under the provincial occupational health and safety legislation, it is the employer's duty to take all reasonable precautions for the health and safety of employees in the workplace. This includes a workplace free of hazards, including hazards such as infectious diseases.  

If close contact with the public is part of your daily operations and social distancing is not possible in your workplace, your staff must wear face masks. However, some employees may not wish to or be able to wear face masks.

How do I enforce the requirement for wearing face masks?

You can do so by creating a clear policy on use of masks or face coverings in the workplace. Your policy should state that all employees are expected to comply with the directive.

Employers should also provide the necessary personal protective equipment to workers. It is critical that you also train your staff on the dos and don’ts of wearing a non-medical mask. The policy should also clarify the cases in which employees will be exempt from this requirement.

You should communicate your face mask policy to all employees and visitors/customers. We advise that employers research the specific requirements for face coverings in their jurisdiction to make sure they are following the law. 

Can I fire an employee who refuses to wear a face mask?

If you have a clear policy that requires all employees to wear face coverings in the workplace, then workers who refuse to comply may be subject to disciplinary action, including termination.

Your policy should communicate that wearing face masks or face coverings is a health and safety requirement. Employees who do not comply are creating an unsafe workplace. By doing so they put you, the employer, at risk of violating your obligations under occupational health and safety legislation.

If you have such a policy, a staff member’s refusal to wear a face mask could be treated as insubordination and a refusal to adhere to workplace health and safety guidelines.

What should I do in case an employee has a medical condition or disability that makes it difficult for them to wear a face mask?

Employers must accommodate employees who cannot wear face masks due to a disability or a medical condition. In such cases, an employer could:

  • Permit the employee to work from home
  • Allow the employee to wear a different kind of face covering
  • If the employee cannot work from home and cannot wear a face covering, the employer should seat the employee in a workspace that allows for social distancing. The employee should be seated behind a plexiglass barrier if they will be dealing with the public.  

If none of these options work and it is not possible for the employee to work safely, you may have to consider whether the worker can continue employment. But you must do your best to find solutions on a case-by-case basis, up to the point of undue hardship.

Want to know your employer obligations surrounding COVID-19 health and safety?

For advice on health and safety policies during the pandemic, call an expert today: 1 (833) 247-3652.

Suggested Resources