Can my employer terminate me for refusing to wear a mask for a medical purpose?

Can my employer terminate me for refusing to wear a mask for a medical purpose?

The pandemic has impacted the working conditions of most Australians, especially in Victoria. Social distancing and mandatory face masks have become part of our everyday lives. With Premier Daniel Andrews recently announcing Victorians will have to keep wearing masks, likely into next year, you may be wondering how mask wearing will be applied to the workplace. Employees must be aware that their employers cannot require them to wear a mask if they have a medical condition preventing them from doing so. Accordingly, if an employee is dismissed in such circumstances, they may be entitled to bring a claim in the Fair Work Commission and should seek legal advice. 

Can my employer require me to wear a mask? 

In Victoria, every employer has an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic) to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without health risks.

To achieve this, employers must follow any health directives that apply to their business, including the ‘Stay at Home Directions’, which requires every Victorian to wear a mask when leaving the house.

Employers must therefore take all reasonable steps, to ensure that their employees wear a fitted face mask when at work. As an employee, you are also obligated under section 25 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) to comply with your employer’s directions and to take reasonable care of not only your own but also your colleagues’ health and safety, including by wearing a mask.

Medical Exemption

You do not need to wear a mask at work if you have a lawful excuse for not wearing one. A lawful excuse includes if you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a face mask. Although you do not need a medical certificate stating that you have a lawful reason for not wearing a face mask, it is suggested that you should still obtain one.

Accordingly, if you have a medical condition preventing you from wearing a mask, your employer cannot lawfully terminate you for refusing to wear one. However, if you are dismissed in such circumstances, you may have grounds to bring a claim in the Fair Work Commission.

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