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COVID-19: Mandatory mask wearing in Quebec – fact vs. fiction

The recently announced new requirement to wear masks raises many questions. You need to fully understand your obligations to ensure that your business continues to operate safely and hassle free.

Since July 18, Santé publique has required the wearing of masks in all closed or partially enclosed public places in Quebec. It is important for you to understand that this requirement applies solely to the public and does not in any way change or void any workplace obligations previously established by the CNESST.

First, we will clarify all of these obligations. Then we will answer the most frequently asked questions about mandatory mask wearing in Quebec.

Obligations on employees (established by the CNESST):

  • When physical distancing (two metres apart) is not observed or if there is no physical barrier (such as plexiglass), employees are required to wear both of the following pieces of protective equipment:
    • Procedure masks (surgical);
    • Eye protection (safety glasses or visors).

Obligations on the public (established by Santé publique):

  • Wearing a mask or face covering that covers the nose and mouth is mandatory in all closed or partially enclosed public places;
  • Some people are excluded from this requirement, including children under the age of 12 and people with breathing difficulties. The full list of exceptions is available on the Quebec government website.

Frequently asked questions: 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Do my employees really have to wear N-95 masks on my business premises?

No. A procedure mask and eye protection are usually enough. Only certain workers such as those in the health field are required to wear N-95 masks.

Some media reported that the CNESST had mandated that all store employees wear N-95 masks. CNESST quickly corrected this misstatement in a press release (french only).

What is a procedure mask?

A procedure mask, also called a surgical mask, is one of the types of masks commonly used in health settings. They are designed with several layers of material to protect staff from exposure to blood, body fluids, etc. Consequently, they are more effective than fabric masks (or handmade masks). Procedure masks are usually flat, pre-molded or with folds, and attach behind the ears by means of elastic bands. Masks of this type come in a wide variety; currently, there are no standards for monitoring their quality.

What is a physical barrier?

Physical barriers exist in a number of different forms. They are usually made of a rigid, transparent material that is installed between customers (for example, a plexiglass barrier mounted on a checkout counter). Barriers can also be made of a flexible, transparent material or of any other material, transparent or not.

What is eye protection? Can wearing eyeglasses be considered eye protection?

Protective eye equipment must form a barrier against side splashes and direct sprays. It needs to be adjusted around the face, covering it from the eyebrows to the cheeks and from the nose to the side of the face. Safety glasses or visors are normally used to provide eye protection.

Eyeglasses are therefore not acceptable as PPE.

Can a fabric mask be substituted for a procedure mask?

No. Fabric masks cannot be substituted for procedure masks in the workplace. Their effectiveness has been shown to vary enormously; consequently, fabric masks are not sufficient for protecting workers.

However, if the two-metre physical distancing rule is observed and there is a physical barrier, the CNESST does not prevent wearing fabric masks in the workplace.

Is it acceptable to wear just a visor?

The Institut national de la santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) has shown that wearing only a visor does not provide adequate protection against exposure to or transmission of the virus.

The CNESST might authorize wearing a visor alone but only as a last resort. An example would be when a mask causes the eye protection equipment to fog up and this problem cannot be remedied. As mentioned above, if the two-metre physical distancing rule is observed or if there is a physical barrier, it is acceptable to wear just a visor.

Managing employees

Who must provide employees with personal protection equipment?

It is the employer’s responsibility to provide PPE.

How many masks should I provide to my employees? How often should a mask be changed?

The CNESST recommends changing a procedure mask as soon as it is wet, visibly soiled, damaged or when breathing is difficult. It also recommends wearing a procedure mask for no more than four hours.

It is therefore strongly recommended that you provide each employee with a mask for each consecutive four-hour work period. For example, employers will need to supply each employee with two masks for an eight-hour shift.

If I have installed a plexiglass-type barrier between my clients and my employees, do my employees still have to wear procedure masks and visors?

When physical distancing is observed or there is a physical barrier, the CNESST does not require the wearing of a mask and visor. However, if employees behind the barrier cannot observe physical distancing at all times, they will be required to wear procedure masks and eye protection.

Your managerial rights also allow you to require the wearing of masks even when it is not necessary. Such rights involve your own internal rules that your employees will also have to follow, unless they are prevented from doing so by a medical condition.

One of my employees claims to have a medical condition that prevents him/her from wearing a mask. Do I have the right to demand a medical certificate?

Yes.

Some of my employees object to wearing masks and don’t want to comply with the health guidelines issued by the CNESST. What am I supposed to do?

As an employer, you are obligated to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for your employees. Your employees also have an obligation to ensure their health and safety as well as that of their colleagues. If they refuse to comply with the rules prescribed by the CNESST, you will have to discipline them. Depending on the situation, it may also be possible to bar them from entering the workplace.

Do delivery people also have to wear personal protective equipment when they deliver goods to my company?

Although they are not your employees, delivery people are still workers and are subject to the CNESST health guidelines. This means that if the two-metre distance cannot be observed and there is no physical barrier, they will absolutely have to wear surgical masks and eye protection.

 

How do I manage the public and my business?

If physical distancing is observed or a physical barrier separates my employees from the customers, do customers still have to wear masks?

Yes. Members of the public are required to wear masks or face coverings at all times in closed or partially enclosed public places. Please note that customers are not subject to any restrictions as to the type of mask and are free to wear either a fabric or procedure mask.

How can I validate which people are not required to wear a mask (i.e. those exempted by Santé publique)?

You can ask the person whether he/she is not wearing a mask because of a medical condition; however, you do not have to ask about the nature of any such condition or request a medical certificate. This is not your responsibility.
 

 

Find out at a glance if wearing a mask is required for your employees.

How to know if my employee is required to wear a mask?