As more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccinations, a number of our clients have asked whether employees who provide proof of such vaccination can be excused from workplace COVID-19 control measures such as mask wearing. Unfortunately, at least for now, employers should not agree to relaxing these requirements, even for fully vaccinated people.
According to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccinated people should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing in areas where there are significant numbers of people, or where the vaccination of all present is not certain. These recommendations may change if the CDC concludes that vaccinated people do not have a significant chance of transmitting the virus to others.
Even if this guidance changes, employers may face practical issues with dropping mask mandates for vaccinated employees only. Will this single out unvaccinated people, thereby causing unintended employee relations issues? Will supervisors be able to distinguish who is and is not required to continue wearing masks?
Some states have already dropped their mask mandates. However, these state actions do not prevent employees concerned about workplace COVID-19 protections from complaining to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the lack of masks in the workplace. Until the underlying scientific recommendations change, employers should continue to keep in place CDC’s recommended protocols.