Can Alberta Employers Require Employees to Wear Face Masks?

June 19, 2020

This post was originally published April 23, 2020 and was last updated on June 18, 2020.

With the recent increase in discussions regarding the use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers might be wondering whether they can require employees to wear face masks and other protective face coverings (such as homemade face masks and bandanas) in the workplace. Recent guidance provided by the Government of Alberta encourages employers to first conduct a hazard assessment in accordance with occupational health and safety legislation, and then implement other controls prior to directing the use of personal protective equipment (“PPE”), such as face masks and other protective face coverings.

The Government of Alberta has recently published a guide, the Non-healthcare Workplace Guidance During Covid-19 (the "Guide"), which discusses the use of PPE in non-healthcare workplaces. Before implementing any COVID-19 measures, the Guide instructs employers to conduct hazard assessments to identify existing and potential hazards relating to COVID-19, as required by occupational health and safety legislation (“OHS Legislation”). Any hazards that exist and can be eliminated completely, should be eliminated completely. Any hazards that cannot be eliminated completely, must be controlled. The Guide sets out the following hierarchy of control methods:

  1. Engineering Controls
    These control the hazard at the source. Examples include placing barriers or partitions between staff and the hazard, or ventilation. 
  1. Administrative Controls
    These controls change the way workers, volunteer and patrons interact. Examples include policies for physical distancing, limiting hours of operations, respiratory etiquette, and frequent hand washing.
  1. PPE
    PPE controls the hazard at the worker, volunteer or patron level. PPE is defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Code 2009 Order to include any equipment or clothing worn by a person for protection from health or safety hazards associated with conditions at a work site. Examples of PPE include gloves, eye protection, face protections and masks, and given the breadth of the definition, could include homemade face masks and bandanas if employees are directed to wear such face coverings by their employer.

When a hazard cannot be controlled by a single control method, an employer may use a combination of controls to provide an acceptable level of safety. PPE would only be necessary when hazards related to COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated by administrative and/or engineering controls. For example, if it is not possible for employees to maintain a two meter distance in the performance of employment duties.

If an employer determines that PPE is necessary based on the outcome of a hazard assessment, the employer must develop a code of practice. The Guide provides resources to assist in developing this material. OHS Legislation provides additional requirements regarding PPE, including:

  • employers who provide PPE must ensure that the workers are competent in the application, care, use, maintenance, and limitations of that equipment;
  • supervisors are responsible for ensuring that workers wear PPE provided in accordance with OHS Legislation;
  • if a hazard assessment indicates PPE is needed then the employer must ensure that workers wear PPE correctly, that it protects workers, works properly, and that workers are trained about its use, maintenance, care, and limitations; and
  • an employer must ensure that using PPE does not endanger the worker.

On June 8, 2020, the Alberta Government implemented it’s “Mask Program” where Albertans can receive non-medical masks at specified drive-thru restaurants. The Alberta Government’s rational for implementing the program was to provide Albertan’s with another “tool” to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while attending public places. The Alberta Government was clear that wearing a mask was one of many tools that should be deployed, and that a mask should complement, and not replace other preventative measures (such as physical distancing; good hygiene; etc.). This rationale is aligned with the Guide and supports the position that other controls and preventative measures should be introduced before (or concurrently with) requiring employees to wear protective face coverings.

Key Takeaways

In light of the foregoing, if an employer is considering requiring employees to wear face masks or other protective face coverings (including homemade face masks and bandanas) in the workplace, the employer:

  • must conduct a hazard assessment (this should be done irrespective of the safety measure being contemplated);
  • should follow the hierarchy of controls noted above (first choice, second choice, third choice); and
  • if PPE is required, employers should develop a code of practice and follow the requirements identified in OHS Legislation.

Notwithstanding the above, it’s conceivable that employees may still elect to wear protective face coverings even in circumstances where hazards related to COVID-19 can be adequately addressed by the employer through the use of other controls. Whether such practice is permissible would depend on the internal policies of the employer.

Guidance regarding the use of PPE may be updated or changed as the COVID-19 situation continues to develop. We will update readers as new information becomes available.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is intended to convey general information about legal issues and developments as of the indicated date. It does not constitute legal advice and must not be treated or relied on as such. Please read our full disclaimer at

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