face masks at work

(26 Posts)
username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 07:09:48

I posted this elsewhere but I'm posting here as well for advice although some of my previous posts have resulted in disablist comments from people who say they work in HR. Well, here's hoping anyway!

I've been up all night crying since learning yesterday that our public sector organisation, under pressure from the union, will require all staff and customers to wear face masks.

I'm profoundly deaf. I need to lip read. I don't use sign language. It's a daily challenge asking people to remove their face mask (allowed under exemption guidelines if someone is deaf) or to write things down.

As my job is customer facing and involves working with multiple departments and out in the community visiting schools, colleges, universities, charities, all sorts of business clients, I just don't see how I can do my job at all and be able to communicate. I also have other disabilities that make social distancing difficult too.

They said they'd look into clear face masks for my team as a reasonable adjustment. Great, except as I said above, it's not just my team I work with! What about the client premises I go to visit? what about even the receptionist in our office building (not our employee). What about the train commute? even visors and perspex screens block sound and phone apps such as live transcribe are not accurate.

I've suggested permanent working from home but no response. I've suggested a change of job role (although could still encounter face masks!)

I want to quit but as a disabled person who would take me? Especially in this current climate? And what if other workplaces are the same?

I can wear a mask. Its other people's masks that cause me problems.

I have no idea what to do now sad sad sad

OP’s posts: |
SoloMummy Sat 08-Aug-20 09:08:43

I think that I would tackle this slightly differently. I definitely wouldn't resign.
You're covered under dda for reasonable adjustments.
The employer probably only has the ability to control the fsce masks of the team etc.
You haven't yet had a response re wfh. Have you submitted this in writing? If not, do so. State as you declared you are covered under dda legislation re your hearing issues.
I'd query the face to face work anyway. My organisation won't be resuming this yet. But in your area I don't see how you can maintain the schools health and safety assessments by visiting f2f and would imagine most won't want this and I'd be candid and offer via zoom etc as much as possible.
If you donhave to attend, I'd request that you have a supply of sealed visible face masks for those you will be having f2f with.
Sadly, the commute per se isn't the employer's issue. And that you may well have to suck up like others in your situation.
I'd definitely ask HR there policy for assisting disabled employees in this current situation and also for their risk assessments.

username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 10:09:01

I did not consider asking for clear face masks that I could carry and hand over to someone. That's an option.

I'm not sure how to word a request to WFH. I've tried writing something but I'm not sure if I need to include specific (legal?) wording. I have a call (with captions) with my union next week so hopefully they can help although they are the ones pushing for everyone to wear masks!

OP’s posts: |
LizzieMacQueen Sat 08-Aug-20 10:13:26

I'm sorry you are experiencing this. I know nothing about HR but for a mask, could you get yourself some custom made masks with a reminder to people that you are deaf. Perhaps not 'DEAF' emblazoned across the front but something else.

Moondust001 Sat 08-Aug-20 10:25:03

I totally understand why this is so upsetting for you, but I'd agree that toy need to let your employer work this through and give them a chance to deal with what they can. You won't be the only thing that that they have to deal with, and some things will inevitably be more of a priority than your issues.

I think you do need to get some perspective. This happened yesterday! And it isn't the unions fault. The union has, very correctly, assessed the risk of a return to work for everyone and had made very appropriate recommendations which the employer agrees with. Whilst I do very much understand the challenges that masks represent for you, you surely don't expect that every employee and every customer is put at risk because you can't "hear" if they wear masks?

The employer has already begun to make adjustments to support you by trying to ensure your colleagues have transparent masks - and that is quite a significant step already because I know from personal experience how difficult it still is to source such masks that meet workplace approved standards. But you really do need to give them a chance - a day isn't giving them a chance.

Perhaps you could try a positive approach. Can't you work through a plan that enables you to do your job and reach compromises? It seems extreme that your solution is to never go back to work or possibly be given another job (which may not exist anyway). It feels almost like you are trying to talk yourself out of the job. Is this really just about face masks, or is it also about other things?

Even if you were to get whatever you want at work, you cannot expect the while of the world to organise around you. You surely aren't planning to stay at home and never venture out anywhere until the virus has gone, because that doesn't seem like a viable or desirable option. Masks, like them or not, are here for the foreseeable future, quite possibly even if a vaccine is found, because vaccines suppress transmission, they don't eliminate the disease. You must be a strong and resourceful person to have built a career whilst also having a profound disability. Stop crying and get back to being that person. Toy can find answers. You've been doing it all your life. And HR will help as far as they can, but you need to work with them. And the union will also help - your are a member, aren't you???

And before you think that this is just another disablist post, I am also disabled, and I'd point out that just about everyone is struggling to adapt to this new normal, disabled or not. It isn't all about you. There are solutions, they may not be perfect, but I don't think anyone is finding the world perfect right now.

Moondust001 Sat 08-Aug-20 10:27:41

username2020

I did not consider asking for clear face masks that I could carry and hand over to someone. That's an option.

I'm not sure how to word a request to WFH. I've tried writing something but I'm not sure if I need to include specific (legal?) wording. I have a call (with captions) with my union next week so hopefully they can help although they are the ones pushing for everyone to wear masks!

Just to add, even if you could source enough clear masks for everyone - and it's hard because I've been trying to source them! - it would not be appropriate for you to carry them and hand them over. You could have the virus and be handing it to them!

Soontobe60 Sat 08-Aug-20 10:37:09

I’m not clear on how working from home is possible if you’re in a face to face role? Do you mean a change of role where you’d be able to wfh?
Obviously your employer has to make reasonable adjustments in order that you can do your job, and is doing so with the clear masks. However, if you’re going into other places of work your employer can’t overrule their risk assessment just like that.
On the plus side, schools don’t have face masks (yet!).
As with all things Covid related, first comes the blanket rule then comes the exceptions. Don’t worry, enjoy your weekend then speak to your manager next week. Just ask how they propose to adjust the mask rule to meet your disability. It doesn’t need to ge a confrontational conversation.

Northernsoullover Sat 08-Aug-20 10:45:04

Isn't there an app which allows transcription? Google Live Transcribe or something like that? Otherwise if you come into contact with someone you need to lip read from would they be able to drop their mask from a safe distance?

SoloMummy Sat 08-Aug-20 10:59:33

@Moondust001
Just to add, even if you could source enough clear masks for everyone - and it's hard because I've been trying to source them! - it would not be appropriate for you to carry them and hand them over. You could have the virus and be handing it to them!
If sealed and the recipient uses antibacterial liquid and drops it out onto the table the risk is absolutely minimal. And if the establishment is so desperate for the op to visit this would be part of the deal. If they don't wish to do that then they provide their own or revert back to zoom etc.

lunar1 Sat 08-Aug-20 11:15:18

I wouldn't take a mask form someone else under any circumstances. I would let your employer work through the situation, is there a feasible job that you can do from home, or where you can remain within your own team?

Moondust001 Sat 08-Aug-20 11:47:13

SoloMummy

*@Moondust001*
Just to add, even if you could source enough clear masks for everyone - and it's hard because I've been trying to source them! - it would not be appropriate for you to carry them and hand them over. You could have the virus and be handing it to them!
If sealed and the recipient uses antibacterial liquid and drops it out onto the table the risk is absolutely minimal. And if the establishment is so desperate for the op to visit this would be part of the deal. If they don't wish to do that then they provide their own or revert back to zoom etc.

It is only minimal if the recipient thinks it is. And in this case, if the recipients employer - who had a legal duty to risk assess - thinks it is. And I don't think you have any idea how expensive workplace suitable clear masks are - few public sector employers can afford to be buying them in large quantities for everyone. That is why everyone isn't wearing them. If they were easy and cheap then they would be standard purchases. How many have you got?

I really do get it. It isn't only about deaf people. Many people rely on facial expressions and "normal sound" to communicate effectively. But the issue isn't just masks anyway here - the OP also says that they can't use a visor or other type of screen because of incompatability with apps etc. In other words, no adjustment will be acceptable other than working from home, since even another job will come with the same conditions on masks.

But in the end, if you argue that no adjustment other than not returning to the workplace at all is acceptable, then you are arguing that you aren't capable of working. That is a dangerous road to go down. There a reason that "reasonable" goes before "adjustments". And, as I said, it isn't just workplaces where all this applies - if the OP intends to have a life, these are all issues that they will need to resolve. Because it isn't all about them - they simply cannot expect expect everyone else to go without masks, and these days masks are everywhere. I feel for the OP, it's a shift position. One of my staff said to me the other day- she is also deaf, from birth - that she has never felt disabled in all her life until now. I know what she means. But we both also understand that it requires us to work to find solutions, not take stands from which nobody will move.

SoloMummy Sat 08-Aug-20 12:37:41

@Moondust001
I'd personally say that at £52 for 24,theyre fairly reasonably priced actually.

SoloMummy Sat 08-Aug-20 12:41:39

@Moondust001
I 100% agree that that @username2020 doesn't wish to say she can Only work from home as this does in effect say she cannot do her job and risks capability issues. Though at this stage I have no way of predicting how this would fair tribunal wise re covid and blatantly disabled.
It's a tough one.
I've been shielding and though it's now paused, explained that I felt very vulnerable if I could be requested to attend a professional conference in London in October. I'm lucky as I've been advised my attendance won't be expected, but I am in a wfh role.

username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 13:14:59

nowhere did I say I want others to be put at risk. but I do fear a reasonable adjustment request being seen as a health and safety risk. And I also said I had other disabilities that will also make a covid secure workplace difficult.

yes I have had problems with this particular employer that are not resolved but I was willing to return to work until I found out their covid secure steps would cause further problems for me.

My job is face to face but actually it could be done via email and Zoom very easily. Another colleague (non disabled) in my team is also arguing about more WFH for childcare reasons and also saying our job doesn't need to be office based at all.

Google live transcribe, and similar apps are not accurate (try them and see).

I've already pointed out to my employer that clear face masks are expensive and have yet to pass government safety tests (see I do care about my colleagues) so I'm not sure if that solution will work either.

And I agree I have never felt more disabled than I have this year.

OP’s posts: |
Polnm Sat 08-Aug-20 15:54:50

You won’t be visiting schools or universities for many months as they are not allowing visitors

username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 16:31:31

actually they are allowing certain visitors, if it involves supporting the child, multi agency support meetings for example. At least they are allowing it in my area.

Could be a zoom call very easily (my role doesn't include actual assessment of the child, I come in after that).

OP’s posts: |
TorysSuckRevokeArticle50 Sat 08-Aug-20 16:42:35

Would it be possible for you to have a tablet with a voice to text app installed that you carry with you? I know our local police service were tweeting recommending that everyone install one on their phones to help out if they need to communicate with anyone with a hearing impairment.

username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 17:30:12

as I said above, these apps are not accurate. I've tried them. Multiple missed words, and multiple misspelled words. Do not recognise all accents and cannot cope with busy environments.

OP’s posts: |
Yankathebear Sat 08-Aug-20 17:38:10

I’ve no helpful suggestions but I’m so sorry that you are facing this.
I work a lot with people who have communication difficulties (not hearing related) and when able to do so (space etc) remove my mask.
I really hope that your employer is able to understand.

Moondust001 Sat 08-Aug-20 17:44:01

SoloMummy

*@Moondust001*
I'd personally say that at £52 for 24,theyre fairly reasonably priced actually.

If you can provide a link to masks at that price that pass workplace standards, then please do.

However, I think that this is not about masks, or even about Covid. It seems that these things may be the latest issues, rather than the only issues. Unfortunately when issues compound, regardless of rights and wrongs - and I make no judgement either way because we have no idea what the history is here - then positions become more entrenched. The OP has not exactly given them a chance to resolve this - fairly or not - because it only happened yesterday.

BellsaRinging Sat 08-Aug-20 17:48:25

Sorry OP that is shit. I would really struggle with f2f in masks too. I think your best option when discussing reasonable adjustments is to calmly set out the options and issues and explain why wfh is the only real option at the moment.
I hope you get a good result. People who have no experience of working as a deaf/hard of hearing person don't get it at all in my experience cos it's not a visible disability and they're used to communicating with you f2f with no need for them to adapt/change their behaviour in any way. People can be so dismissive of deafness and the associated challenges in a way that they aren't with say wheelchair users or blind people. Good luck.

username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 20:07:14

Those who aren't deaf, like @Moondust001, think if a solution doesn't work, then I'm being deliberately difficult.

I am the deaf person. I know what works. I've tried all sorts of things - asking people to remove masks (they rarely do for H&S reasons even though the guidelines say they can), asking them to write things down (they prefer to shout, like that helps), downloaded apps (that are not error free), looked into clear face masks (that are yet to meet government approval), carrying information cards, wearing a sunflower lanyard (both of which don't bring hearing back or are having much success getting people to be understanding) and loop systems do not work with my specific type of hearing aid (NHS and the best there is apparently!)

As for not giving my employer a chance, I've been warning them for months that face masks would cause me problems if introduced at work and I was assured they would take it into consideration but its been announced with no solutions are in place for me yet. So they did have plenty of notice and plenty of information.

I'm really not being deliberately difficult. I just don't know what more to do.

OP’s posts: |
helpfulperson Sat 08-Aug-20 20:15:43

As a public sector the first thing we would do is see if we could juggle roles or work loads so you could wfh or similar. I would definitely ask for reasonable adjustments.

username2020 Sat 08-Aug-20 20:41:49

thanks @helpfulperson but in the case of my employer, I have already had to get a lawyer due to failure to make adjustments.

Whilst covid 19 isn't their (or anyone's) fault, one would think (considering the above) they'd be a bit more anxious to help me, consult with me and have a solution in place before announcing it.

I hope to speak to my union again soon anyway and see what we can be done.

OP’s posts: |
Moondust001 Sun 09-Aug-20 10:26:30

I repeat...
(A) This happened yesterday. Expecting that any employer can simultaneously manage all aspects of a previously unknown pandemic, put in place every plot and deal with all exceptions and situations arising in a day is unreasonable. The OP is assuming the worst - they haven't even talked to the union yet! Having nothing in place "yet" doesn't mean that they won't * ever*.
(B) There is clearly history here. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that history, it exists and that undoubtedly informs attitudes on both sides of this discussion. So this is not simply an issue about masks, but the latest in a series of issues that clearly haven't, at least as far as the OP is concerned, been satisfactorily resolved.

It seems that the standard response for some people is that if you don't have that specific disability you can't understand and must be "disabilist". In other words, I must always get my own way, immediately, because nobody can understand me and my needs. There is a middle ground. Nobody, disabled or not, gets everything the way they want it, and they certainly don't get it in a day.

And, @BellsaRinging, if you had any experience of physical disability then you would know that people can be just as dismissive of obvious physical disabilities as they are about hidden ones.

Anyway, it's clear that the OP has an answer for everything. They want what they want. They might get it, but there doesn't seem to be any room for advice, unless that accords with what they want, so there's little point in anyone telling them anything they don't want to hear.

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