OTTAWA — Canada Post is seeking "clarification" from the federal government about face masks after drawing criticism for refusing to let employees bring their own N95 masks to work.
The Crown corporation earlier this week said employees had to use a Canada Post-issued non-medical cloth or disposable medical mask, or they would be sent home.
The news prompted criticism from some health professionals and the union representing postal workers.
Canadian Union of Postal Workers President Jan Simpson said research has shown N95 masks offer better protection against the more transmissible Omicron variant.
"The union has asked Canada Post to provide N95 masks or suitable alternatives to all postal workers, and at the very least, allow those who’ve purchased their own N95 or KN95 masks to wear them," Simpson said.
"As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, Canada Post Corporation should be doing everything in its power to protect postal workers, who continue to help people stay home and stay safe.”
Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said Thursday "without exception" the Crown corporation has followed the guidance of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
"Given the complex and evolving nature of the pandemic, we have strictly adhered to the guidance and direction from the health experts responsible for protecting Canadians from COVID-19," he said. "We understood from the start that they were the experts, not us, and therefore following their lead was crucial to keeping our people safe."
But after media reports surfaced about the mask issue the policy is under review.
"We are now working with federal authorities to seek clarification and understand their recent guidance so that we can continue to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep our employees safe," Hamilton said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada guidance says non-medical, cloth masks can be used but don't have to meet any standards.
PHAC says medical masks and N95-type respirators offer better protection and have to meet certain standards in Canada.
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States last week updated mask guidance to suggest N95s were really the preferred option for all because of how infectious Omicron has turned out to be.
Getting N95s is, however, not an easy feat right now because Omicron pushed demand for them through the roof in the last two months. However the federal government has contracts supplying about four million of them every month.
Michelle Johnston, spokeswoman for federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, told The Canadian Press Thursday that "nothing in the Canada Labour Code or Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations precludes workers from wearing a higher-quality face covering if they would like to utilize a higher grade of mask or respirator."
Canada Post is not the first employer criticized for refusing to let employees wear better personal protective equipment than they were issued. Several Ontario school boards last fall threatened to discipline teachers who wore their own N95s in their classrooms.
The Ottawa-Carleton Public School Board eventually voted to allow teachers to wear an N95 if they chose.
Ontario began supplying N95s to teachers earlier this month.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press