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Scott Hetrick, Adams and Reese Partner and Labor and Employment Practice Team Leader, was interviewed by DecisionHealth’s Part B News in an article, “As Masks Go Away, You Can Keep Them in Your Practice – If You Watch the Law.”
The article discusses that even though the federal public health emergency ended on May 11, there are some health care facilities that are still weighing their options on maintaining mask mandates for employees and/or visiting patients. Sources interviewed, such as Hetrick, discuss the legal rules.
“Private employers have pretty broad plenary powers to control their workplace,” Hetrick says. “And because of the nature of the at-will relationship between an employer and employee, if an employee doesn’t like the terms and conditions of their employment — if they don’t like the uniform, to use an analogy — they can hit the road.”
The impediment to this is a body of law that governs employees’ civil rights — for example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and medical conditions — and, starting when the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act kicks in on June 27, 2023, pregnancy and related conditions. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “has a reasonable accommodation requirement [in the case of] disabilities,” Hetrick says.
If an employee claims on any of these bases, you’ll have to enter the “interactive process” to seek a reasonable accommodation, according to Hetrick.
“If you have an employee who comes forward with a statement, ‘I can’t wear this mask because of [insert religious or disability or pregnancy related reason],’ then the employer has an obligation to go through the interactive process with them and determine whether or not the accommodation requested is reasonable,” he says.
Specific state laws and recent rules passed also have to be paid attention to regarding mask coverings, according to the article.
Practicing in the Adams and Reese Mobile office, Hetrick is a management rights advocate who represents employers on federal and state labor and employment law compliance and dispute resolution. He also represents insurers with analysis of their defense and coverage obligations. He speaks frequently on employment law and human resource management issues at seminars for personnel managers and business owners and has published several articles on employment law. Hetrick has been recognized in Best Lawyers® in Employment Law since 2010, including named “Lawyer of the Year” in Mobile.