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What Employers Need to Know About the CDC’s Latest Mask Update

The CDC recently updated its mask guidance for vaccinated individuals (in nonhealthcare settings) to “wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

The CDC also provides a map of the country indicating which counties currently have substantial or high COVID-19 transmission, versus moderate or low transmission. As a result, multiple states are updating their own state mask requirements and guidelines to mirror those of the CDC.

The first question employers may ask is…

Do I have to follow the CDC’s mask requirements?

The short answer is, yes indirectly. Specifically, employers are required by OSHA to provide employees with a safe work environment. Although the CDC’s rules themselves are not necessarily binding, OSHA’s rules, which refer to and rely on the CDC’s safety guidance, are. Nonhealthcare employers with employees in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission are best advised to follow the CDC guidance, this includes for employees as well as visitors and patrons.

If my state/county/city has a mask mandate, which rules do I follow?

Some localities may already have reinstituted a mask mandate or are looking to align with the CDC’s guidance. In this case, employers should follow whatever rules provide the most protection to employees. For example, if a city’s mask mandate allows vaccinated employees to go without a mask while alone in their private office, they may still be able to follow that rule given that the CDC’s recommendation is for indoor public areas.

Can we require employees to wear masks even if there isn't a state or local mask mandate?

No rules prevent employers from implementing more strict mask requirements than what the law requires. However, employers should continue to take care to accommodate those individuals who may not be able to wear a mask due to a protected disability or medical condition. For certain types of jobs that prohibit the use of masks to perform certain duties, employers wanting to implement a requirement may need to take alternative precautions to protect those individuals from potential exposure while those duties are performed (e.g., adding barriers or other protective equipment, performing the specific job duty while isolated from others, etc.).

The CDC’s focus on vaccinated individuals brings up a familiar question…

How do I know if someone is vaccinated and what can I do to ensure required individuals are wearing masks?

Depending on the rules in their locality, employers have a couple of options for verifying vaccination status. You may require proof of vaccination, such as an individual’s vaccination card, or you may require employees to sign a statement attesting to their vaccination status. This process may be more cumbersome when admitting visitors in private settings, in which case employers may choose to rely upon the honesty of those individuals or have them sign a statement that they will comply with all applicable safety requirements while on the premises. Regardless, businesses should effectively communicate, through signs and other means, that masks are required for unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals in indoor public settings. Additionally, employers should update their mask policies to match the method of vaccine verification they choose and overall mask requirements applicable in their areas of operation. Whatever methods are used, employers must ensure compliance with EEOC and state rules regarding vaccination inquiries and mask enforcement.

Action Items

  1. Review CDC, state, and local mask requirements for each area of operation, including whether employees are located in an area of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission.
  2. Update mask policies, signs, and documents to match applicable requirements.
  3. Have employees trained on the latest requirements, including how to handle visitors or patrons who refuse to wear a mask due to a protected disability or medical condition, or based solely on personal preference.

For more information on how to ensure your organization remains compliant, visit OneDigital's Coronavirus Advisory Hub.

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