Should Employers Require Employees to Wear Respirators?

The world is on its knees after the outbreak of the recent pandemic. Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the entire lifestyle and progression of people’s lives all across the world. No matter which discipline of life we belong to, or what our professions are, a medical mask has become an integral part of our lives.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States of America has been devastating and the country is currently topping the list of the affected countries, with the highest number of recorded COVID cases and deaths.

The numbers have been constantly rising ever since the pandemic started spreading, making the state of New York its epicenter. And ever since the pandemic spread all around the world and in the US, medical masks, facial masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers have become an essential part of our lives.

Something that is essential for our survival in current times. While there has been a rush to implement safety protocols, lockdown, and social distancing measures and guidelines, there has been a lot of misinformation about the whole topic as well.

One questions that has been asked is, “Should Employers Require Employees to Wear Face Masks and, if so, what types?”

When it comes to answering the question, there are several factors, regulations, protocols, and policies that have to be considered before arriving at a final conclusion. A realistic approach towards the topic clearly indicates that respirators and medical masks can better help in maintaining hygiene and ensure better protection of employees, customers as well as the public in general.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued specific guidelines for wearing facial masks at the workplace, that employers should review before implementing measures.

After the slow lifting of lock-down restrictions, businesses and organizations have started reopening with the necessity of new safety guidelines and measures for workplaces. Masks are meant to stop the wearer from spreading respiratory droplets, as well as prevent the inhalation of the deadly virus, that is airborne.

The coronavirus has been extremely infectious, as witnessed. According to OSHA guidelines, employers may require the use of respirators when they are “necessary to protect the health” of workers, but employers are mandated by OSHA to provide respirators for situations that are “immediately dangerous to life or health.”

While medical masks and respirators are the better options, they are much different than normal facial masks or cloth covering variants. The N95 Particulate Respirator is the kind of medical mask that has been widely used and advocated by health experts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It is a specialized respirator or medical mask.

Regulations for wearing masks

Coming back to the guidelines for employers and employees, OSHA has broken down masks into distinct categories addressed in its regulations and guidance. Although there’s a huge gap between whether an employer mandates employees to wear masks, or if employees do so voluntarily.

  • Respirators or medical mask standards
  • PPE standards
  • Homemade and improvised masks


As mentioned earlier, the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, requires respirators when “necessary to protect the health” of an employee, and such medical masks are subject to both the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard as well as the OSHA PPE Standard.


PPE, which stands for personal protective equipment, falls under the OSHA PPE Standard, which requires proper protection if necessary to prevent a job‑related injury or impairment. A loose-fitting facial mask or a surgical mask that does not filter the air falls under this category.

Homemade and improvised masks

Cloth face coverings like bandanas and other various types of homemade face coverings that are not regulated by OSHA. Home-made and improvised masks are not subject to any of the OSHA regulations and standards.

More and more government organizations and businesses have been requiring employees to wear masks for both personal and public safety, and to ensure a safer workplace.

Amidst all these, respirators and medical masks, like N95 respirators, can be the best option for an individual for complete personal safety, while the spread of the deadly coronavirus still seems to have no pause or slowing.

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