No facial covering in the office, now a warning

Q: I am furious.  My office has recently asked a small number of us return to the office, after working from home for almost one year.  I have a private office, but most of the time there are only a few people in the office.  A few times per day, I would run to the restroom or run to grab a cup of coffee.  I did not wear my mask as I was usually several feet from others.  On Friday, I was told that I was receiving a written warning for violating COVID-19 protocol.  Yes, we have signs up everywhere saying “Facial Coverings are Required.”  However, my run to get coffee is quick and then I would get into my car and return with a coffee about 20 minutes later.  Should I protest this warning?  It seems ridiculous.

A: Workplaces in Massachusetts are required to provide a safe environment for their employees.  As part of that requirement, employers are required to follow COVID-19 safety standards.  Offices in Massachusetts require all employees to wear face coverings at all times, except when in their own individual workspace or alone.  If you have a private office, you are permitted to remove your face covering once inside your office.  Or, if you are in the office on a Saturday, and no one else is in the office, you are not required to wear a face covering.  As outlined within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 workplace guidelines for offices: “Face coverings are required in all common areas and in meeting rooms, even when 6 feet of distance can be maintained.”  There are also occupancy limits as well, depending upon the size of the office.

It sounds like your employer has posted the requirement to wear a face covering.  Additionally, you are fortunate to have a private office, which is a place you can remove your face covering.  However, you are required to wear a face covering when you leave your private office.  There may be others, within your office or building, who are concerned about their health.

If you have repeatedly violated these safety standards, then I understand why your employer documented their concerns in a written warning.  Social distancing is one of the core requirements of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

You can discuss your concerns with your manager.  However, many employers are trying to balance asking employees to return to the office, while also maintaining a healthy office.  It is important that all employees comply with the face covering requirement.

Finally, we have had a few clients take similar action.  Some employees are anxious about returning to the workplace.  It is important the returning employees follow COVID-19 protocol safety standards to ensure that there is no outbreak in your workplace.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.