While the government of Manitoba has not yet mandated the use of face masks in public spaces, many employers may wish to mandate the use of face masks in their workplaces in order to comply with their occupational health and safety obligations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers mandating the use of face masks in their workplaces should be aware of the various considerations outlined in the current government directives as well as The Workplace Safety and Health Act (Manitoba) and its regulations (the “Regulations”), the details of which are outlined below.
Guidance respecting an employer’s obligation to provide their employees with personal protective equipment (“PPE”) in the era of COVID-19 can be found in a number of government issued directives and in the various statutory obligations contained in the Regulations.
The Government of Manitoba has released the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus – Workplace Guidance for Business Owners, which provides that the use of PPE in the workplace should be based on the advice of the company’s occupational health and safety officer/designate and on a risk assessment that considers both the risk associated with the specific task/undertaking as well as the characteristics of the source of the infection (e.g. a sick person or a contaminated environment).
The guidelines provide that if PPE is required in a particular workplace, employees and volunteers must be supplied with the needed PPE and must also be trained on the use, disposal, storage and sanitization of the PPE.
Similarly, the Regulations state that when PPE is required to be worn or used in the workplace, the employer must provide their employees with that PPE at no cost to the employee. Further, the employer must ensure that the particular equipment is stored in a location that is clear, secure, and readily accessible by the worker, and is immediately repaired or replaced if it is defective.
With the above directives and statutory requirements in mind, note that while non-surgical face masks are not typically considered PPE in the traditional sense, employers mandating the use of face masks in the workplace should err on the side of caution and provide their employees with a supply of face masks at the employers’ expense. Employers should also maintain an adequate supply of replacement face masks on the worksite in the event that employees misplace or damage their face masks. Note as well that while an employer is not required to compensate an employee for the maintenance of their face masks, they must train their employees on proper mask use, care, storage and sanitization.
The Regulations state that an employee who is provided with PPE is required to use it in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications, take reasonable steps to prevent damage to it, and must inform their employer if it becomes defective or fails to provide the protection that it was intended to provide.
In addition, note that other than to accommodate a legitimate medical issue, employees who refuse a reasonable request to wear a mask in the workplace may be sent home, and potentially disciplined on the basis that their refusal impedes their employer’s occupational health and safety obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.
We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep employers appraised of if and when the Province of Manitoba mandates the use of face masks in public spaces. Employers with questions or concerns pertaining to the use of face masks in their workplace should contact a member of our labour and employment team in Winnipeg.
Located in Saskatchewan? Please see “Personal Protective Equipment “PPE” Guidelines for Employers”.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice of opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.