Maryland Expands Face Coverings Requirement to Most Workplaces and Imposes Travel Restrictions
Maryland’s Governor issued an Order expanding the mandated use of face coverings to almost all private workplaces, effective 5:00 p.m. on July 31, 2020. In addition, new travel restrictions were also announced, including “strongly recommending” 14-days quarantine periods for certain travel.
Face Coverings. Governor Hogan had previously issued a face coverings order that directly impacted retail and food service employees, while leaving the decision whether to require or request face coverings in other types of private workplaces up to the employer. His July 29, 2020 order now expands the required use of face coverings to essentially all private workplaces in Maryland.
“Face coverings” are defined as a covering that fully covers a person’s nose and mouth, including scarves, bandanas, and (newly added) plastic full-face shields. Of relevance to employers, the Order requires the use of face coverings in the following circumstances:
- “Indoors at any location where members of the public are generally permitted, including without limitation, Religious Facilities, Retail Establishments, Foodservice Establishments, Fitness Centers, Gaming Facilities, Indoor Recreation Establishments, and Personal Services Establishments.” This would include employees, as well as members of the public.
- “Outdoors and unable to consistently maintain at least six feet of distance from individuals who are not members of their household.” Thus, outdoor workers coming into regular proximity with co-workers and others are covered by the order.
- “Engaged in work in any area where . . . interaction with others is likely, including without limitation, in shared areas of commercial offices.” This broad category captures almost all work environments. “Shared areas” is not defined, but we would expect it to apply to office areas such as lobbies, elevators, break rooms, hallways, restrooms, conference rooms, copy rooms, and shared office spaces, at a minimum. It would also apply to areas like warehouses, loading docks, and production floors. A single occupant of an enclosed office space would not be required to wear a face covering while working in that space.
The Order contains some exceptions to the face coverings requirement, of which the following may apply to employees:
- Where the individual’s bona fide disability or medical condition makes such use unsafe.
- Where those with hearing impairments or other disabilities need to see the mouth for communication.
- If such use would subject the person to an unsafe working condition, as determined by federal, state, or local occupational safety regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
Unlike orders in some other states, the Maryland Order does not address the verification of an individual’s disability or medical condition. Thus, the normal protocols under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law should apply to an employee seeking an exemption from the face coverings requirement as a reasonable accommodation for a disability or medical condition. The employer should engage in the interactive process with the employee regarding the request for accommodation, through which the employer may obtain information from the employee’s medical provider regarding the nature, severity and duration of the employee’s impairment and substantiating why the impairment prevents the employee from wearing a face covering. The employer may also explore alternative accommodations with the employee and their doctor, as the employee is not necessarily entitled to their desired or the best accommodation – just one that is effective.
Notably, given that clients and patrons of businesses may also have disabilities that impact their ability to wear a mask safely (or communicate with those who are masked), companies should consider adding to signage that communicates the masking requirement information on alternative methods for disabled individuals to access products or services, such as calling a number to receive personal assistance outside the building or alerting an employee of a hearing impairment that will enable alternative methods of communication (such as paper and pencil) to be used. This will avoid placing employees in the position of potentially mishandling requests for accommodation, thereby risking violations of the ADA’s public accommodation requirements.
Travel Restrictions. Separately, Governor Hogan also issued a “travel advisory” on July 29 that “strongly recommends” Marylanders not travel outside of the State and, among other recommendations, suggests that anyone returning from a State with a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 10% or above promptly get tested upon return and self-quarantine until the test results are received (excluding travel to the District of Columbia and Virginia). The Advisory specifies that essential workers traveling and returning to Maryland to perform essential work are exempt from the quarantine recommendation and also excludes employee commuters who leave/enter the state on a daily basis and have work-based COVID-19 screening procedures. It is unclear whether the recommendation to quarantine after certain travel has the status of a quarantine “order” that would trigger a right to emergency paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. And if the FFCRA does not apply, employers will need to evaluate whether such leave will otherwise be paid.