While most of your employees and patients will readily comply with face mask mandates, there are always exceptions. Having the right policy in place will help you properly handle refusals and keep your practice safe. Face mask policy.
Avoid these face mask responses at all costs to stop charges of violating an employee, local, or discrimination law.
Mistake #1: Not Having a Face Mask Policy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a face mask when social distancing of six feet apart isn’t possible, and almost every state has some form of mask requirement, with many of those requiring face masks when in public spaces. But don’t rest solely on the rules of the CDC or your state and local government—your practice must create its own face mask policy.
Having a face mask policy will:
- Encourage Cooperation. If you don’t inform patients and staff that you have a face mask policy, you open the door to more people entering your practice without coverage.
- Avoid Penalties. You’re required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide a safe environment for your employees, one that is free from recognized hazards that can cause serious physical harm or death. Without a face mask policy, you risk fines and penalties from OSHA for an unsafe workplace – that can even lead to a costly lawsuit.
- Reduce Liability. Failure to enact a face mask policy increases the changes of your practice being sued for negligence. In the event that an employee or patient contracts COVID-19, they could file a lawsuit claiming you are responsible for their illness because you did not enforce the required protocols.
When implementing your face mask policy be sure to:
- Communicate: Convey your policy to your staff, especially those who are enforcing the policies! Mandates vary by state and even by county, so don’t assume that everyone knows they should wear a mask at your practice. Inform patients of your rules before their appointments via email, portal, and/or phone. Post signs on all entryways and common areas in your practice.
- Assist: Provide face masks for employees and have them available for patients who need them.
- Comply: Adhere to employee, anti-discrimination, and other laws.
Mistake #2: Challenging Health Claims for Face Mask Avoidance
The CDC recommends face masks for everyone over two years old, unless that individual has trouble breathing or a condition that makes wearing facial covering challenging. Patients and employees who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions or other sensory sensitivities may be exempt from mandates. Unfortunately, this can lead to people taking advantage of the system, claiming they have a disability or a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.
Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. So what should you do?
- Avoid Interrogation. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) you aren’t allowed to inquire about the nature of the person’s disability, so use caution when responding negatively to these affirmations.
- Offer Solutions. Politely tell the patient that you understand their dilemma but you have to keep your waiting area safe for everyone. Give them the option to wait outside, in their car, or go directly to an empty exam room if you have one ready.
Mistake #3: Denying a Patient Care Because of Not Wearing a Mask
So you have your face mask policy in place and a patient comes in but refuses to wear one. What do you do? Your initial reaction might be to say, “No mask, no service.” But don’t. There are a number of things that can go wrong if you choose that tactic:
- Violence: The patient could become angry, verbally abusive, or violent.
- Illegal Termination: The patient could accuse (and report!) you of patient abandonment.
There are better actions you can take when a patient refuses to wear a mask. Provide them with one of these reasonable options:
- Alternative visit: Offer the patient a telemedicine visit instead.
- Isolation: Ask the patient to wait in their car until you call or text that you are ready for them.
- Expedition: Escort the patient to an empty examination room immediately to get the individual out of the waiting area.
- Substitute: Ask them if they can cover their face with a loose scarf instead of a mask.
The pandemic is a health threat and you have rights and responsibilities as a practice to require masks and protect your employees and patients. But there are so many gray areas! The good news is labor and employment law attorney, Michael Wong, Esq., can help. By attending the online training, “Face Mask Policy Enforcement: Avoid Violations, Fines and Lawsuits,” you’ll receive practical strategies to help you head off face mask violations, comply with state and local mandates, and keep your patients and staff compliant and safe.
COVID-19 Related Resources For Your Medical Practice
|Employee COVID-19 Screening: Avoid Costly Legal Mistakes
||Fire Your Patient Without a Costly Abandonment Lawsuit
||Face Mask Enforcement: Avoid Violations, Fines and Lawsuits