Coronavirus (COVID-19) Common Questions Regarding Worker Face Covering and Mask Requirements

These common questions and answers are to help with implementation of Governor Jay Inslee's orders and L&I regulatory policy related to COVID-19 and the use of face coverings, masks and respirators. This information is being updated as new questions come in.

Businesses and workers should also use the following guidance documents for additional information on required face coverings and mask use based on the level of risk for various job tasks:

What does it mean to be “working alone”?

Someone is considered to be working alone when they're isolated from interaction with other people and have little or no expectation of in-person interruption. How often a worker is able to work alone throughout the day may vary.

Examples of working alone include:

  • A lone worker inside the enclosed cab of a crane or other heavy equipment, vehicle, or harvester.
  • A person by themselves inside an office with four walls and a door.
  • A lone worker inside of a cubicle with 4 walls (one with an opening for an entryway) that are high enough to block the breathing zone of anyone walking by, and whose work activity will not require anyone to come inside of the cubicle.
  • A worker by themselves outside in an agricultural field, the woods or other open area with no anticipated contact with others.

Do fire, police, 911 dispatchers, and the like need to wear a cloth face covering when working at the desk during emergency calls?

Barriers and ventilation should be set up in the call center to provide effective separation between workstations and supervisor locations. Dispatchers do not need to wear masks when sitting in separated workstations or communicating on emergency calls.

Coverings/masks must be used when with other people, in accordance to the L&I guidance chart.

What about police? Should they wear (or not wear) cloth face coverings in a car alone, on the beat, and other situations?

As a general rule, cloth face coverings should be worn when not working alone. When interacting with the public, masks should be worn, but other public safety concerns may necessitate removing the mask for improved communication or to avoid the mask being a hazard. An individual alone in a car is permitted to not wear a facial covering. Two officers in a car is likely medium risk and a covering must be worn; other situations may need to be evaluated. Masks or face coverings are required when law enforcement officers are in a station house or other administrative building with frequent in-person interactions.

What are the requirements for workers with medical and disability issues that prevent the use of a cloth face covering or mask?

Employees with medical or disability issues preventing mask use should provide their medical professional's accommodation statement specifying that facial covering or masks should not be worn due to their condition to their employer.

When communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, workers may unmask to aid in reading facial cues and lip-reading while ensuring at least 6 feet of distance or a physical barrier between them. The employer should then assess their needs and make appropriate adjustments to work rules to accommodate the employee. Americans with Disability Act (ADA) accommodation processes should generally be followed, particularly when a solution is not obvious or may impact other workers. Adjustments to rules and the workplace may be necessary to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all workers.

What COVID-19 protections are required for a speaker at a news conference?

Reporters, on-camera anchors/talent, and speakers on camera or in front of a crowd may remove their cloth facial covering or mask for the time they are speaking only. A shared podium or equipment should not be touched without being sanitized after each person has used it. Proper social distancing of at least 6 feet between all people must be maintained. All other employees, including camera operators and production staff, must wear masks or face coverings when not working alone.

Do workers have to wear cloth face coverings when interacting with clients while they're behind a Plexiglas barrier and are safe-distanced?

Yes. While the use of barriers is encouraged, it does not remove the requirement that workers have to wear a face covering or mask. The requirement for workers to wear face coverings or better is based on whether they're working alone.

Do workers working alone in 6-foot high cubicles need to wear cloth face coverings?

If the cubicle has 4 walls and a door opening, and the worker can maintain social distancing, they are considered to be "working alone." With that, they do not have to wear a cloth face covering or better while in their cubicle. When workers leave their cubicles, they need to put the face covering on.   

Is a barista working at a drive-through coffee stand considered working alone?

If a drive-through worker is the only person in the stand, they only have to wear a cloth face covering or better when they are interacting with customers.

Can cloth face coverings or masks be removed during lunch?

Yes, but social distancing needs to be maintained.

Can cloth face coverings be laundered at home?

Yes, cloth face coverings can and should be routinely laundered at home.

Are face shields an acceptable substitute for masks or cloth face coverings?

No. Face shields provide good droplet protection for the wearer, but the purpose of using a cloth face covering or mask is to protect others. Because people can be infected and actively transmitting the virus without knowing it, coverings stop the virus at the source — the mouth and nose — from getting into the air. It prevents workers from passing the virus to other workers and customers.


If you have further questions regarding workplace safety, please call 1-800-4 BE SAFE (1-800-423-7233).