Labor law: This applies to the mask requirement at work

On the bus, in the supermarket, in the pharmacy: in many places, wearing a mask to contain the spread of the coronavirus has now become the norm. But which rules apply in the workplace?

The employer is responsible for the safety of his employees. If the distance regulation cannot be complied with in offices, the mask requirement applies

© Getty Images / Luis Alvarez

The mask requirement at work: In some companies it is now part of everyday life due to the corona pandemic, but elsewhere employees can move around without mouth and nose protection. What is legally valid? Three questions about this that many employees are currently asking themselves - and the answers to them.

Must mouth and nose protection be worn at work?

Depends on. First of all, every employer has a duty of protection and care towards its employees. During the corona pandemic, for example, he must ensure that the risk of infection in the workplace is as low as possible.

The requirements for occupational safety were specified in the SARS-CoV-2 occupational safety regulations of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Baua) in August. Which measures an employer has to take, however, always depends on a risk assessment at the respective workplace.

The occupational health and safety rule then stipulates, for example, that a distance of 1.5 meters must be maintained between employees. Where this distance rule cannot be adhered to and other means such as partitions between the workplaces cannot be implemented, the employees must wear a mouth and nose cover for mutual protection. Companies that adhere to the occupational health and safety standards can assume that they are acting in a legally secure manner.

In some cases, however, the locally applicable provisions can also go beyond this occupational health and safety rule. For example, the Berlin Senate announced on Tuesday that it would generally make a mask requirement for offices and administration buildings mandatory, which always applies when you leave your immediate workplace.

And what if employees refuse to wear a mask?

The employer has the right to direct, also known as the right to issue instructions. If the employer orders the wearing of a protective mask at the workplace, this is covered by the right to issue instructions - and employees then have to adhere to them, as the Verdi union explains in an FAQ. If you refuse, you risk a warning - and in the repeated case even a dismissal.

Does the employer have to provide masks?

If an employer obliges its employees to wear mouth and nose protection at work in connection with infection protection, then they must also provide this or pay for it, as Nathalie Oberthür, specialist lawyer for labor law, explains.

Basically, it depends on whether the mask counts as service or protective clothing. Workers have to pay for uniforms themselves, even if in practice companies often contribute to the costs or employees can deduct the expenses from tax. Personal safety equipment such as safety shoes or a helmet, on the other hand, must be paid for by the employer in any case - and if mouth and nose protection is required to avoid infection, it also belongs in this category, according to lawyer Oberthür.