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Can an Employer Terminate an Employee Who Refuses to Wear a Mask?

Can an Employer Terminate an Employee Who Refuses to Wear a Mask?

As the norms of society have shifted as a result of COVID-19, the issue of wearing a mask or not has become a contentious issue in and outside of the workplace. While preventative masking is not mandatory pursuant to government legislation, many businesses are requiring customers and employees to mask.

A private business is well within their right to require customers to mask to gain access to the particular business and if a particular customer refuses they have the right to refuse service to that customer, including entry to the business which is private property. But can an employer require its employees to mask at work?

The answer is yes, if there is a clear Workplace Health and Safety Plan or Policy that makes masking mandatory. If an employee refuses to mask in light of such a clearly worded policy they can be terminated for violating the workplace health and safety policies. While whether violation of such policy would be grounds for a just cause termination is debatable, if there was an increased risk of infection or spreading of COVID-19 in the particular workplace, a refusal to mask could potentially give grounds for a just cause termination.

Another option would be progressive discipline and warnings to the offending employee that the Health and Safety policy requires masks at all time and document repeated violations. Repeated violations of a clear Health and Safety policy can most definitely be grounds for a just cause termination.

Bottom line is that an employer is entitled to establish a mandatory masking policy if they believe that it is an appropriate safeguard in the workplace. Violations of that policy increase health and safety risks for not only the violating employee, but also the entire workforce. Repeated, documented violations can lead to a just cause termination, but like in any circumstance it is best to consult with a lawyer before making any decision regarding the termination of an employee.

Scott Chambers is an employment lawyer and partner at Doak Shirreff Lawyers LLP. Scott can be reached at 250-979-2527 or [email protected].