Updated guidance on masks in the workplace
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance advising that individuals who have been fully vaccinated are able to resume some pre-pandemic activities, including attending both indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask. Maine adopted the CDC’s guidance, allowing for fully vaccinated Americans not to wear face coverings indoors, effective May 24, 2021.
Even with federal and state guidelines doing away with mask requirements, there are still mixed feelings on the matter. Employers should take the following into consideration when deciding how to move forward with internal policies on mask wearing.
Employers can still require employees or customers to wear masks when inside their businesses.
Even though the CDC issued this guidance, it does not take precedence over state or local regulations or orders, and even if all the federal, state and local orders are in line with CDC (masks not required if fully vaccinated), employers may choose to make them required for employees and/or customers.
Employees who lie about their vaccination status or refuse to abide by employer mask policies may be disciplined.
Employers who do away with mask requirements will be relying on employees to stay safe by getting vaccinated. Employers should take the time to clarify any mask policies and associated disciplinary actions for those who violate them, but it is within an employer’s right to discipline employees who do not abide by mask requirements, or who misrepresent their vaccination statuses.
Mask requirements as they pertain to your business should be spelled out.
As stated above, employers should be abundantly clear about internal mask policies by using signs and other employee communication channels. Without the overarching federal or state requirements, it should be as obvious as possible to employees and customers what the rules are within your business.
There are still exceptions for mandating the vaccine.
We’ve talked about vaccines in the workplace previously, and it’s important for employers to remember that while employers are allowed to mandate the vaccine generally, they must make certain exceptions (such as for disability accommodations and accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs). OSHA guidelines that will provide further insight here are still unfolding.
Safety measures can remain in place.
Even if you’re following federal or state guidelines, it may still be a good idea to put safety measures in place in the workplace. The current vaccines aren’t proven to prevent the spread of COVID 100% of the time, and retaining other workplace safety measures can make employees feel more at ease – especially if some of your employees are not yet fully vaccinated.
If you’re an employer navigating the best way to move forward for your business, experienced employment counsel may be able to provide clarity.