Q: One of my employees recently submitted a medical mask exemption card to back up her claim that she is exempt from all mask requirements.
The card is about the size of a driver’s license and says that the cardholder does not need to reveal their condition, but wearing a mask puts them at risk under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also lists the contact information for reporting ADA violations to the U.S. Department of Justice.
As an employer, do I have to accept this card as proof of a mask exemption?
On a. Unfortunately, as mask requirements become more common, these types of counterfeit “exemption cards” are becoming more common.
The cards themselves vary (and are widely available online), but they all purport to relieve the nameless cardholder of any mask requirement due to an unidentified condition.
Employers can enforce masking requirements – and may need to enforce such mandates, depending on local executive directives – like any other employment policy.
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects disabled workers from discrimination and requires employers to accommodate disabled workers unless the placement would create undue hardship on the employer – in other words, when the placement involves significant difficulty or expense.
If an employee applies for an exemption from the mask requirement, the employee must provide evidence of the existence of a disability and the need for accommodation.
This rule applies unless the disability and the need for housing are obvious.
For example, an employee with severely impaired airways could present a medical certificate documenting the condition and the need to wear a mask.
An employee with a severely compromised respiratory system could provide a medical certificate.
In response, the employer should initiate the ADA’s “interactive process” with the employee and discuss placement options.
This could include things like: (1) a modified face covering or shield; (2) job restructuring that would allow the worker to work a safe distance from others; (3) modified work schedules; (4) physical barriers around the employee or others; (5) remote work; or (6) other suggestions from the employee or their doctor.
In no case is an “exemption card” sufficient.