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No mask? No job. You can be fired for refusing to wear PPE

woman wearing mask at work

There is little doubt that the cracks around COVID-19 are starting to show. From rapid lockdown regulations to hybrid models of working, organisations have been juggling changing rules and safety protocols for nearly two years.

As employees become increasingly restless and frustrated with the limitations of masks and regulations, it’s becoming more complex to manage their rights versus those of the company and other employees. However, as Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies points out, refusing to wear a mask can be a dismissible offence as it puts the health and safety of the company and its people at risk.

“Each and every company has to write policies that dictate their approaches to health and safety and to employee management,” says Myburgh. “These now include all the COVID-19 policies that companies have to put in place, and wearing a mask should be included as this is mandated by government.”

Mask wearing forms part of the Disaster Management Act that clearly outlines that they need to be worn the entire time at work, even if a person is isolated in their own office. This is why it is mandated within company policy as well, and constitutes a firing offence if a person refuses to abide by the rules.

“It’s a health and safety concern – it falls under numerous Acts, including Occupational Health and Safety,” says Myburgh. “Companies are expected to provide and maintain a safe workplace, so if someone is walking around without a mask, they are putting both company and other employees at risk. The challenge lies in how a company takes action, and when.”

Most incidents where someone has forgotten to put on a mask, or isn’t wearing one in an isolated office, can be ignored and are rarely seen as a dismissible offence. However, if someone refuses to put on the mask, particularly in a high-density area, then this is a different situation. In the first incidence, a minor negligence of forgetting to put on a mask can be ignored and the person warned. The second situation, not so much.

“You can absolutely dismiss someone for refusing to put on a mask, but you have to make sure that you are consistent,” concludes Myburgh. “You can’t dismiss one person for this infraction and then let another one off the hook. Consistency is key. But ultimately, wearing a mask is now an essential health and safety protocol for companies adopting hybrid or on-site working models and should be upheld by company and employee.”

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