If you live in a state where the governor hasn’t lifted your state’s mask policy, you can sit back and relax. It may frustrate or anger your employees, but you can sit back and say, “Masks are required at work! End of story!”
For the rest of you, what was once a pain to enforce has now become a mystery. You need a policy regarding masks–even if your state doesn’t require them and you don’t require employees to wear masks. Your policy can’t simply be “no masks required!” Here’s what you need to think through.
The CDC advises while the state and OSHA make rules.
The Centers for Disease Control said that fully vaccinated people (two weeks past the final immunization) do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors. Your employees may latch onto this, but even the CDC reminds you that they don’t make the rules. They advise:
You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
This is where you need to be clear. If your state still has a mask mandate, or when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) releases new guidelines requiring masks at work or in certain situations, you need to follow those. (OSHA should be releasing new guidelines soon, and all signs point to its following the CDC guidelines.)
Oregon, for instance, just made their mask and social distancing rules “permanent.” (To be clear, this is just a workaround because the laws don’t allow them to extend temporary guidance. Oregon’s OSHA expects to revise this “permanent” rule eventually.)
Check your own state and local guidelines before changing your policies.
You can treat vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently.
As long as your state and local rules allow vaccinated employees to go mask-free, you can allow your employees to do the same while still requiring your non-vaccinated employees to wear masks. This is not a HIPAA violation, nor is it an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violation.
So, you can make a rule that says “If you are vaccinated against Covid-19, you do not have to wear a mask. If you are not, then you need to continue to wear a mask at work.” This is true even if the employee has an ADA or a religious exemption. This is in line with several court decisions that have upheld required masking for employees who do not receive a flu shot.
Protect everyone from retaliation.
Your policy can be everyone wears a mask, regardless of vaccination status. Your policy (if state law and OSHA guidelines allow) can be nobody has to wear a mask. Your policy can be vaccinated without mask, unvaccinated with. Or vice versa, but that would be super weird.
One thing is for certain–no matter what you do, someone will not be happy with it. Whether it’s an employee who complains that it’s not safe to be without masks or a customer who complains about your masks-on rules, there will never be agreement.
Make sure your policy states that people who choose to wear a mask, even when not required, will not face discrimination or backlash. Your policy needs to continue to make the manager responsible for handling unruly or rebellious customers, whether they complain about masks or the lack thereof.
if you’ve decided to go with no masks and an employee chooses to wear a mask, do not embarrass, punish, or say, “Our customers won’t like that!” That may have been a good argument in 2019, but it’s not now.
Business needs vary, and that’s OK.
Costco announced that vaccinated customers no longer had to wear masks, and it was just using the honor system. That decision may make sense for Costco. If your business caters to high-risk individuals, you may want to continue to require customers and staff to wear masks.
You may have heard that Texas banned masks altogether, but that’s a bit of hyperbole. Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banned “counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials” from requiring masks. You can still require your employees and customers to wear masks, even if you’re in Texas. It’s just government entities that cannot.
It’s OK to sit down and think about what is best for your business under the current legal framework. It’s also OK to re-evaluate it regularly to make sure you’re doing the best thing for your business.
Remember to promote vaccines.
Regardless of your policy, continue to encourage your employees to receive their vaccinations. The more people who are vaccinated, the better off we’ll all be.