March 24, 2020 (New York, NY) – In response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the Sikh Coalition wants to ensure that Sikh healthcare professionals and emergency first responders understand their rights with regard to medical respirators and face masks. 

Many hospitals are updating their policies beyond the recently released discretionary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, resulting in stricter policies regarding respirators and face masks. Some of these policies may create challenges for Sikhs who keep their beard to balance religious beliefs while providing patient care and maintaining their health and safety. 

Some hospitals may require all healthcare professionals to shave or trim their facial hair in order to wear the more readily available hospital respirator, the N95, for purposes of their fit test requirements. Additionally, some hospitals may only have a limited supply of the more costly and less available Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR), which do provide full coverage for wearers who may not meet the fit test requirements for the N95. 

“We have been contacted by several Sikh health professionals from across the country who have been asked to make the untenable choice between their religion, safety, and serving patients,” said Sikh Coalition Legal Director, Amrith Kaur. “We recognize that we are currently living in difficult times, but we are here to make sure that no observant Sikh is forced to make this false choice.” 

If you or somebody you know is a U.S. healthcare professional and have been told to shave facial hair in response to COVID-19, please contact the Sikh Coalition’s legal team for free legal aid immediately. We can effectively walk you through the process of securing a religious accommodation with the goal of a quick resolution between you and your employer.   

For the rest of the observant Sikh healthcare community managing the COVID-19 outbreak, please proactively contact your employer to secure a PAPR or Controlled Air Purifying Respirator (CAPR) face mask before this potentially becomes a problem at a later date. The Sikh Coalition has been working closely with the North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association to detail all the critical proactive steps you must take. Please review and share this document widely with other observant Sikh healthcare professionals. 

For more detailed information on Sikh Coalition COVID-19 resources, please visit this page. The Sikh Coalition recognizes that millions of American families are being impacted by COVID-19, including many Sikh American families. As a civil rights organization, we are in the process of shifting some of our organizational priorities, and working with partners, as quickly as possible to better meet some of the unique challenges that we are facing as a community and as a nation.  

As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.