With state-wide pandemic restrictions starting to get lifted and the number of vaccinations steadily rising throughout the U.S., many employers are eagerly anticipating the day they can say farewell to their own business’s COVID-related mandates. However, in spite of the fast-approaching post-pandemic world, employment law specialists are warning employers to stay cautious and refrain from moving to ‘normal’ work conditions too fast.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting an average of more than 60,000 new COVID-19 cases and 600 deaths a day, the decision to lift mask mandates is a high-pressured decision—one that requires you to weigh conflicting mask rules against safety risks, compliance hurtles, and the morale of your workforce.
Since there is no official timeline for when it will be fully safe to leave COVID-related practices behind, pacing your operation’s transition will be critical for avoiding mistakes. Here’s everything we know about lifting mask mandates safely so far.
Where Do We Actually Stand – Mask Mandates by State/Locality
As things currently stand, twenty-one state governments still require people to wear face coverings in most indoor public settings, and 18 states have fully lifted their mask orders for the general public. The remaining states have not had any statewide mask mandates during the pandemic.
Many states are still undecided on whether or not to do a partial or full-blown disbanding of mask requirements in light of the CDC’s announcement that fully vaccinated Americans can largely go without masks.
Regardless of where your state stands, employers maintain the right to set safety standards around pandemic practices in the workplace. When the time comes, it will ultimately be up to you to decide the true needs and circumstantial risks of your operation, not just the status of federal and state-level policies.
CDC and OSHA’s Mask Mandate Recommendations
As states and local governments revisit their rules in the weeks ahead, you can look to trusted federal agencies to help aid your decision-making process in the meantime. According to both U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers should continue to require masks and follow other COVID-19 safety protocols for the foreseeable future.
OSHA, in particular, recommends that employers have employees wear face coverings and continue operating with the mindset that social distancing is not a substitute for wearing a mask. If your employees file a complaint to OSHA because of perceived hazards related to COVID-19, the agency will want to know what safety measures you took against the virus regardless of your state’s statuses on masks.
Your priority should be to prevent the spread of the virus, not just get back to normal as quickly as possible. From the federal level, this remains the best way to truly achieve long-term normalcy and prevent COVID-related penalties during the transition from established pandemic protocols.
Unfortunately, we have yet to receive CDC or FDA guidance on how to proceed with COVID-19-related safety measures when an entire workforce (or the majority of the workers) is vaccinated. Subscribe to our blog for updates as things progress.
What Should Your Next Move Be?
In order to lift mask mandates with the most ease and success, you need to consider the true risks that will be faced by your employees and identify as many compliance risks as possible.
Here are some tips for lifting your mask mandate and preparing your post-pandemic plans:
- If there is conflicting guidance between federal, state and local mask regulations, you should follow the highest-level of guidance available to you.
- Follow OSHA mask guidance closely, as OSHA standards cover pandemic-related safety risks and are updated regularly. You are responsible for providing a work environment that is free from recognized hazards, so your mask mandate needs to reflect that.
- Treat the mask requirements like your other safety rules. Explaining the necessity of keeping mask wearing or why it is safe to lift the mandate will ease your workforce through the transition. Explain that the change in policy is based on the most credible information currently available.
- Be clear and transparent with employees when you announce a policy change and offer opportunities for employees to voice their concerns in a constructive way.
HR Alerts for the Hourly Workforce
Even as the pandemic begins to wind down, there are a lot of hurdles and compliance regulations to keep track of as part of the transition. EPAY Systems offers powerful HR resources, in addition to an award-winning Human Capital Management (HCM) platform, to support your business’s journey.
Our compliance alerts can help keep you informed on the latest industry updates, while our hourly workforce blogs help safeguard your compliance efforts and support operational needs beyond the pandemic. Check out our COVID-19 Resource Center, or request a personalized demo today.