Thursday, November 10, 2022

Muckenfuss makes a mask fuss

Michael Muckenfuss worked in maintenance at a Tyson Fresh Meats facility. When the Covid-19 pandemic began, the town's mayor instituted an executive order mandating the wearing of masks, which Tyson enforced inside the workplace. Muckenfuss presented Tyson with a note from his health care provider requesting that he wear a cloth mask with a filter instead of a surgical mask as a reasonable accommodation for his asthma. Tyson agreed to the accommodation. Muckenfuss later sued, however, claiming that Tyson kept the mask mandate in place, along with his filtered mask, after the Covid executive order expired.  

He brought his claim not under the ADA, but under a provision of the Indiana Code that prohibits an employer from requiring as a condition of employment that an employee implant, inject, ingest, inhale, or incorporate an acoustic, optical, mechanical, electronic, medical, or molecular device into their body. Muckenfuss claimed that the face mask qualified as a such a device, and that Tyson violated the statute by requiring that he wear it on his face. 

The trial court had little difficulty in dismissing this claim.

This statute was aimed to prohibit the introduction of a device "into" the body. Wearing a mask on one's face isn't that.… Mr. Muckenfuss invites an interpretation that would render this statute absurd.… [H]is interpretation would suddenly prohibit all sorts of sensible mandates by employers. No longer could a company require a bleeding employee from wearing a bandage or band-aid "against" his wound. No longer could a company require an employee to wear a protective glove, or work boots, or goggles, or many types of personal protective equipment because they were likewise designed to be used "against" the body.

As this case illustrates, any employee can sue their employer for some alleged legal violation for just about any employment decision. The issue isn't whether you can be sued, but whether the decisions you made put you in the best position to defend that lawsuit if and when it comes.