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2020 was a year that brought lots of new terminology and phrases. No surprise – 2021 isn’t much different, and we have a new one to add to our list. That term is “Mask Shaming”.

Let’s take a moment and delve into that phrase. Mask shaming involves comments made to another person, in a derogatory fashion, when that person is or isn’t wearing a mask. We’ve heard them all – “They can’t make you do that”, “You’re making us look bad”, “How come you don’t have to wear one?”….. Hmm…. Is that the same as teasing someone for what they are wearing? Or belittling someone for their hair, weight, or other attribute? Sounds a lot like bullying doesn’t it?
We in the HR world have been dealing with bullying and hostile work environment issues for years. Now as the CDC, OSHA and organizational leaders make important (and sometimes divisive!) policy decisions, employee relations issues appear, and must be addressed immediately.

Let’s face it (no pun intended, these COVID-19 pandemic issues have been stressful. The entire past fifteen months have been stressful! Finding the right safety balance for employees has been hard. There are no “right” answers. Most companies are trying to comply with recommended guidelines and do the right thing under OSHA’s “Duty of Care,” even if that decision isn’t popular or comfortable. They are committed to protecting employees and their families. While it is inevitable that some employees may have personal opinions that differ from those of the company or co-workers, one thing is for sure… Bullying is harassment and should not be tolerated. On that same note – “Mask Shaming” is bullying and should not be tolerated.

Encourage people in your organizations to be kinder and gentler to everyone. We don’t know what is happening in the lives of everyone behind their mask or in the absence of one. We need an abundance of grace for all. Build statements into your policies that encourage tolerance for others that may choose to mask even when it isn’t required. Don’t forget that when you see behaviors in the workplace that aren’t appropriate, it is everyone’s responsibility to stop that behavior immediately. Mask Shaming is one of those things. Add that to your dictionary for 2021.

Thanks for listening,