Masks, Vaccinations and the Workplace
On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that wearing a mask in most indoor settings was no longer necessary for individuals who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
OSHA has promised to issue guidance soon, so it is possible that some rules may continue to change.
What indoor settings does the CDC still recommend masks?
Vaccinated and unvaccinated employees should comply with any state and local rules that may be stricter. Businesses can make their own stricter rules and require employees and customers to comply with wearing masks while inside. Additionally, people are still required to wear masks on public transportation, in correctional or detention facilities, or in homeless shelters. In addition, different rules apply to health care employers as well as those visiting healthcare sites.
Can an employer ask for proof of vaccination?
Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance last December saying that it was legal for employers to:
- (1) require employees to be vaccinated (with limited exceptions) and
- (2) ask employees whether they have been vaccinated, or even to ask for proof of vaccination.
Proof of vaccination could be a receipt from a doctor’s office or pharmacy, a note from a health care provider or health department, or a vaccination card.
Are there exemptions to employers requiring vaccinations?
Yes. If an employee has a disability that precludes vaccination (for example, the employee is immunocompromised) or if vaccination would violate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, the employer will have to at least try to make reasonable accommodations.
Reasonable accommodations could include letting the unvaccinated employee work from home or requiring the unvaccinated employee to continue to wear a mask, social distance, and take all the other old COVID precautions in the workplace.
What if someone already had COVID-19? Do they still need to be vaccinated?
Yes. According to the CDC “you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19. That’s because experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible—although rare—that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.”
What about an employee believes they will contract the virus from the vaccination or that it will alter their DNA or that implant a microchip in their body?
These types of belief’s are not based on a disability, religious belief, so it is not legally protected. Employers can accommodate employees with “non-protected” objections to vaccination, but they are not required to do so.
Unvaccinated people may now be more easily identified if they are required to wear a mask. This may cause friction in work and public spaces and discrimination on both sides. What precautions should companies take for those who cannot get vaccinated because of religious or health reasons and for those that refuse to get vaccinated?
Employers should issue a clear communication to all employees to avoid any confrontations based on whether masks are being worn. This is especially important for supervisors and management. Confrontations and making workers feel uncomfortable can result in disciplinary action. If the employer is following applicable laws and guidance, and the unvaccinated employees are following the rules (wearing masks, social distancing, etc.), unvaccinated employees should be left in peace. In addition, if an employee with health concerns asks to be moved away from a co-worker who has not been vaccinated, the employer should try to accommodate.
What about employees who are still fearful and want to keep working from home?
This is between the employer and the employee, as well as the requirements of their specific job. If your employee wants to continue wear masks even though they do not need them, allow this.
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