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Are restaurants responsible for supplying staff with masks and gloves?

Photograph: Shutterstock

Question:

I am nervous about going back to work. Does the owner have to supply mask and gloves or do I?

– Bakery cashier, Covington, La.

Answer:

While regulations for reopening from COVID-19-related closures and keeping workers (and customers) vary by state and municipality, in general, the responsibility lies with restaurant owners to provide the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep workers safe. According to OSHA, “With few exceptions, OSHA now requires employers to pay for personal protective equipment used to comply with OSHA standards. ... The standard makes clear that employers cannot require workers to provide their own PPE.”

This is a terrible time to tell restaurateurs about new costs of doing business, I know. But the reality is that the obligation of operating a safe and compliant restaurant falls on the operator. While I’ve heard tales of operators requesting or requiring that employees provide their own face masks or other PPE, I advise against that. Apart from the legal vulnerability, you don’t have control over the quality, safety or appropriateness of the PPE for a food-safe environment unless you can vouch for it yourself. Providing PPE is not only an obligation but an assurance that you are taking the best precautions possible in a challenging environment.

The good news is that some states and municipalities are supporting grants to help businesses fund or recoup the costs of providing PPE. Some operators are budgeting for PPE by reconsidering their pricing or even adding a COVID-19 surcharge (which I do not recommend).

More on protecting food system workers during COVID-19 here.

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