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Currently in the UK it's not mandatory to wear a mask while outside the home.

Like some of the country, our team is currently working from home but there are plans in place to require people to wear a face mask when we return to the office for a period of time.

There are a few reasons I personally don't advocate your average Joe wearing a mask. PPE is running thin among our emergency services, they should be getting priority as they are at greater risk. For a mask to be effective you need to wash your hands and discard the mask every time you remove it. This isn't practical due to the shortages.

Folk are wearing scarfs, socks, etc. as masks. However, making you own mask is inconsistent. There are a number of factors for a mask to be effective: material type, fabric density, coverage, etc. Along with this, once the mask has being used must be removed correctly, with gloves, and disposed.

My question is can an employer force you to wear a face mask?

I have reviewed the following online documentation but nothing is mentioned Gov.UK - Staying safe outside your home.

The employer is preparing members of staff to return to the workplace. They have clarified each of us will get 3 masks for our return. I am currently trying to determine what type these are.

If these are the disposable kind then the best case scenario is that this will cover 3 days of office work - following correct disposal guidelines: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/epi-win/how-to-use-mask-v0-1-print.pdf?sfvrsn=64ba1493_2

If they are some other kind I will need to look into those once confirmed.

Alongside either of these we will require covered bins for potential mask disposal, hand washing facility within the office or disposable gloves - otherwise door handles may become contaminated, alcohol-based hand gel.

For now I will be advocating for working from home as we are currently doing currently rather than rushing back.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. There's a useful discussion in that room but let's keep comments here for their intended purpose. – Lilienthal May 28 at 10:30
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    downvoted because the title (can employer force mask) doesn't match the question (can employer force back to office) – tar May 29 at 22:02
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    To my knowledge, most places which say "you must wear a mask" will allow you to wear scarfs, cloth masks, reuse masks, etc. They are trying to reduce the spread (R0 < 1), not completely eliminate it. – user253751 May 30 at 17:33
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    (If R0<1 for long enough, the virus will eliminate itself) – user253751 May 30 at 17:40
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    (Well, they are trying to completely eliminate the spread, but when that's not practical, a severe reduction is Good Enough) – user253751 May 30 at 18:16
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Short answer: yes.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, section 7, you must cooperate with your employer to protect yourself and others. See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/section/7

General duties of employees at work. It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—

(a)to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and

(b)as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.

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    The "and others" is crucial, as the recommended masks for most jobs aren't really to protect the wearer, but those around them. That also implies the mask escapes the definition of PPE - but employer and employee both still have a duty of care to colleagues. If they are issuing masks that are meant primarily to protect you, you still have to wear them - wearing PPE as covered by risk assessment is everyone's duty under various relevant regulations. – Chris H May 28 at 13:44
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    The law says they have a duty to take "reasonable care" for health and safety, and must follow requirements by the employer that fall under "statutory provisions." If the government recommends but does not require masks, it may not be a "statutory provision," and the court may accept the argument that it is similarly not required as part of a duty of reasonable care. This answer is good, but the policy would have to be tested in court for anyone to be sure. – IllusiveBrian May 28 at 13:46
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    @ChrisH that is debateable in this situation your wearing a mask to protect others an employer can define safety procedures to protect others eg must have two people when your climbing a telegraph pole I have a feeling that the law would say yes – Neuromancer May 28 at 23:23
  • @Neuromancer I think we're agreeing - I meant they can require you to wear masks to protect others if that's part of a safety procedure, but I could have been clearer – Chris H May 29 at 6:38
  • @ChrisH One could very well argue that wearing a mask is not reasonable. COVID-19 is about 10x more lethal than the annual flu. Yet when it comes to flu you can show up at work coughing and sneezing and nobody bats an eye. But what do they mean by "as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person"? That's extremely vague. – dan-klasson May 29 at 21:49
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No, of course they can't force you to wear a face mask.

However, as the other answers have pointed out, they absolutely have a right to require this to work at their company, and if you choose not to or even make ripples against wearing one, expect to be soon finding another job.

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    So, basically, you are free to not wear the mask, but they are also free to not let you inside the building... – Val May 28 at 5:22
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    There is no contradiction with other answers here. Every answer is saying the same thing, this one is just the most concise. – eps May 28 at 13:18
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    @Lilienthal This answer says, in short, that "you don't have to wear a mask if you don't want to work there anymore". As in, the choices are: 1- wear the mask, 2- don't work there anymore. – Ismael Miguel May 28 at 15:04
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    @IsmaelMiguel Hmm, right. I get what you mean. I'm not a fan of twisting a simple yes into a no over debatable semantics but it's indeed saying the same thing. – Lilienthal May 28 at 15:35
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    @Casey After re-reading the answer multiple times I am so tempted to post an answer of my own stating that they can even force you to wear a face-mask 24/7... by kidnapping you, then restraining you so you cannot move at all and finally strapping a face-mask onto you. Of course, that would be illegal, but hey - it is technically correct that they can force you to wear a mask by doing that. – CharonX May 29 at 8:46
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Yes, they can. And it has nothing to do with COVID-19. Your employer can make you wear whatever they consider a good fit for the job. That can be a branded shirt, or a uniform, or a special hat, or just suit and tie. They can require safety equipment even though the law says you could do without.

The only thing an employer cannot do is require clothing that violates legal safety standards (wear a branded wool cap when a hard hat is mandatory by law for example) or any of your constitutional rights (freedom of religion for example) or any of your personal safety conditions (for example, masks that hinder breathing if you have lung problems). However, please bear in mind that depending on how important this is for the job, you might not be eligible for the job and the employer might be able to let you go if you cannot perform your job function. As an example, you cannot be forced to work as a butcher for pork meat when your religion claims it's something you shall not do, or you cannot be forced to work the bar when you are an alcoholic or you cannot be forced to do heavy duty work in protective gear with a lung condition. But your employer cannot be forced to employ you in such a position either if you cannot actually do the job as requested.

It's common that the employer pays for the clothing they require. It's also common to have laws against discriminatory clothing requirements, for example if your bosses force only you to wear clowns boots all day at your office job.

But everybody wearing a facemask is something that even without the virus and it's medical implications, would be perfectly legal to require at work.

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    @richardb The company's reasons may be related to COVID-19, but their ability to make this requirement is completely unaffected by the current situation. So, "can they force you to wear a facemask" is not related, but "will they force you to wear a facemask" probably is. – Chronocidal May 28 at 9:30
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    A sound answer but I'd drop "would be perfectly legal" or at least replace legal with reasonable if as you say you don't know the UK regulations. – Lilienthal May 28 at 10:35
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    @nvoigt True, but in some countries that could be tied to specific health&safety regulations which might not (yet) exist for office jobs. The only issue I see is the "would be perfectly legal to require at work" which is a legal claim that normally requires backing up. Saying "would be perfectly reasonable to require at work" instead would avoid this though you could just cite the same act that Simon's answer references instead. (For the record, I'm aware I'm nitpicking here. :)) – Lilienthal May 28 at 15:39
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    You might want to rethink "constitutional rights (freedom of religion for example)" given that the UK has a state religion and rights are enumerated by statute, not constitution. – Caleth May 28 at 21:47
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    "any of your constitutional rights" + UK --> Britain's unwritten constitution – chux - Reinstate Monica May 28 at 22:18
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Yes, because their reasons for doing it are reasonable.

If you want to challenge your employers' requirement, then you need to show it is unreasonable. They will argue that it is reasonable. Which it, in fact is.

And their argument will look like this:


A lot of people think "The mask only protects me, so I should be allowed to take my chances. I'll just take myself out of circulation if I get sick."

That is not how COVID-19 works, and is what makes it so insidious.

You are a carrier long before you feel symptoms

It is not uncommon to catch COVID-19 on day 1... have it develop enough that you are infecting other people by day 3 -- and only on day 12 does it sicken you enough for you to detect that you are sick (and self-quarantine etc). So for 9 days, you are a carrier - a "Typhoid Mary", who is not sick but spreads the sickness.

Not only that, some data suggests many people go through the catching - carrier - illness - recovery cycle without even realizing they were ever sick. A study showed 20% of New Yorkers revealed they had COVID-19 antibodies!

The pop notion, of course, is that you are not contagious until you feel seriously sick, and the logic is "therefore I'll just take myself out of circulation at that time". That was never really true, but this tactic really doesn't cut the mustard with COVID. The scientists are clear that if we used that usual tactic, COVID would tear the world apart.

And that's why all the leaders are requiring stay-at-home, social distancing and masks.

The masks serve a vital purpose other than PPE

You are used to masks being used to protect yourself. As you know, they're not that great for that. But this isn't the real value of a mask against COVID. Masks have another effect.

Masks protect other people FROM YOU.

If you are wearing a mask, and you are sick, the mask is catching and stopping virtually all your aspiration of the virus. Masks protect others from you. They're not PPE: they're mePE.

This is the effect the scientists are looking for. This is the reason for the government orders.

And the science is showing that almost any mask is highly effective in this role: the non-N95 and homemade masks all work fine.

Some N95 masks actually have a bypass valve so exhalation is not filtered. Those exhalation-valve masks do not work to protect others from the wearer. As a result they are dis-recommended.

This was only discovered in the last couple of months. COVID-19 is, after all, a novel virus - science is learning as it goes along.


You can see where this puts the mask requirement in a whole new light. Previously, one thought, you can decline, and how dare the "nanny state" protect you from yourself, the masks are stupid and don't work... (which is itself a popular trope, see last years's series Chernobyl, where most workers mocked and discarded the sorry PPE).

But now, when we rethink the masks as a "duty to protect others from oneself"... Now, someone refusing to wear a mask is a selfish, narcissistic sociopath.

The employer not only has a right to enforce behavior that protects its other employees... but they have very good non-COVID reasons to want to exclude reckless, other-endangering sociopaths from the company.

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    @paul23 You're assuming you know more than all the scientists and medical people who actually know what they're talking about. – Loren Pechtel May 29 at 2:18
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    > You can see where this puts the mask requirement in a whole new light. Here in Japan the general populace has been wearing masks to prevent the transmission of viruses to others ever since the Spanish flu broke out a whole century ago! Even if it's just the Common Cold, it's common sense here to take such measures to minimize the nuisance you'd be to others if you'd be spreading cough droplets and whatnot throughout public spaces. People in western countries just had their heads to far up their asses to take any note. Whole new light my ass! – Will May 29 at 3:19
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    Thank you for addressing the question asked, answer restored. In future please submit a custom flag for this instead as it will be handled sooner. A comment ping might be missed. – Lilienthal May 31 at 8:48

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