Can you be dismissed for not wearing a face mask at work?

“I’m an HR manager and also responsible for health & safety at my workplace. Lately I’ve noticed an increasing number of employees failing to keep their Covid masks on at work, despite regular warnings. My employer is very worried about this and has asked if we are allowed to dismiss employees that blatantly fail to adhere to our Covid-19 protocol of wearing a face mask. Not wearing a face mask is in my view very serious, but dismissing someone is also a serious step. Can someone be dismissed for not wearing their face mask?”

Our Labour Court has recently confirmed that the answer to this question is “yes” you can be dismissed for not wearing a face mask at work. As always, the facts of each case and the severity of the transgression will need to be taken into account to determine whether dismissal is the appropriate sanction, but our courts view dismissal as an option if justified and appropriate.

In the case of Eskort Limited v Mogotsi and others an employee went for a Covid-19 test and failed to inform his employer of this. During this period the employee came to work and walked around without a mask and had physical contact with other employees. It then also transpired that the employee had tested positive for Covid-19. The Court viewed the employee’s conduct as inconsiderate and nonchalant and that the employee’s conduct was extremely irresponsible and reckless. The dismissal was held to be fair and an appropriate sanction in the circumstances.

This confirms that dismissal can be an appropriate option for the failure to wear a face mask at work, bearing in mind that the necessary substantive and procedurally fair disciplinary steps must be followed by the employer.

October 12, 2021

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