Does an employee refuse to wear a facemask after instructions to do so by the employer? In that case, the employer may suspend the payment of wages to the employee and deny him/her access to work for as long as the employee refuses to observe the instructions. This was the court ruling in a recent case by the Court of Midden-Nederland.
The employee in question was a delivery driver for a pastry shop. Halfway through October, the employer instructed his staff to wear a facemask at work. The instructions only applied within the organization’s premises. In the delivery van, the employee did not have to wear a facemask. Nonetheless, the driver refused to wear one at work. He claimed the instructions violated his privacy because it was a nuisance, caused discomfort and posed a risk to his health. In response, the employer suspended the payment of his wages and removed the employee from active duty. The employee then took the matter to the subdistrict court and demanded to receive his outstanding wages and to be placed back on active duty.
The employer pointed out he had the statutory right to issue instructions. The latter permits an employer to give reasonable instructions which must be observed by the employees, provided that the instructions have a legitimate purpose. The judge ruled that this was the case. The employer has the legal obligation to ensure a safe and sound working environment for his employees. This means the employer must do whatever is necessary to prevent a coronavirus infection from happening at work. Although the effectiveness of a facemask is disputable, wearing a mask has been accepted by society and can contribute to a safe(r) and sound(er) working environment. An employer can therefore instruct employees to wear one at work and impose consequences if an employee refuses to observe these instructions.
Court of Midden-Nederland, January 13, 2021; ECLI (abridged): 51