On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks or physically distance in any setting. This is not a bright line rule, as the CDC underscored that masks mandates from state and local governments would still apply. The announcement did not address interaction with vulnerable populations (such as children under 12 years of age who still cannot be vaccinated). Further, the update does not address how the mandate might interact with the workplace. Nonetheless, I recommend that employers consider the following:
- Prioritize uniformity. The CDC mandate specifically states that vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks or socially distance. That being said, it specifically states that those that have not been vaccinated should wear masks and socially distance. Many employers have opted not to require vaccines. I recommend creating a uniform policy for all employees in order to promote clarity and unity in the workplace (as well as remove potential allegations of discrimination).
- Look to local guidance. As referenced above, the CDC’s federal guidance specifically carves out deference to state and local governments. Before making a bright line rule for your business or organization, review local/state guidance on masks to ensure that you are not creating additional liability. For example, on May 14, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam issued an Executive Order containing several specific guidelines for the operation of Virginia businesses (related to the CDC’s announcement).
- Don’t abandon your COVID-19 policy. Masks are only one facet of combatting the global pandemic (although an important one). Currently, only 56% of the eligible U.S. population is vaccinated. Given this, the federal (and state) governments still have several requirements that employers must adhere to, including those from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Continue to maintain and update your COVID-19 policy in order to protect your workplace.
Feel free to reach out to me to discuss your COVID-19 policy or questions relating to the CDC’s announcement.
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ABOUT THEODORA STRINGHAM
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Theodora Stringham assists individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.
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