- Until new guidance is complete, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has directed employers to follow the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding mask use and social distancing for fully vaccinated workers.
- The CDC has recommended that "fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also reviewing the CDC guidelines to consider "any impact of these developments on COVID-19 technical assistance provided to date."
While the OSHA update allowing employers to follow the CDC recommendations relieves some pressure, employers may still be waiting on final guidelines from OSHA to determine their ultimate path forward when it comes to mask mandates.
"If OSHA comes out and says, you know, employees have to wear masks, even if they're within six feet of each other, even if they're vaccinated, then that's going to really trump whatever the CDC says," Cozen O'Connor Member David Barron told HR Dive last week.
Some restaurant heavyweights have already relaxed their mask requirements for customers in light of the CDC's latest guidance. Chipotle and Starbucks announced Monday they will not require fully vaccinated diners to wear masks inside restaurants unless the location falls under a local law that requires it. Both chains still require employees to wear facial coverings.
McDonald's, however, told Restaurant Business that it still requires all customers to wear masks but is consulting with the Mayo Clinic about how to move forward in light of the CDC's latest recommendations.
Though some experts hope the relaxation of mask rules could encourage unvaccinated people to get their COVID-19 shots, others worry that it will be impossible to know whether unmasked individuals are actually vaccinated or taking advantage of the new policy — which could cause stress for restaurant employees who have already faced hostile retaliation from diners who refuse to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. Fifty-eight percent of restaurant employees are reluctant to enforce these protocols for fear that diners would tip them less, according to a December One Fair Wage report.
Employers can still voluntarily opt to require social distancing and masks for their workers, according to a May 14 blog post from Morgan Lewis, and can still inquire about vaccination status or request proof of vaccination. Companies can also still design employee access policy to buildings, workspaces and events based on vaccination status.
"Our understanding of the CDC guidance is that workplaces with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons can operate safely while allowing those individuals who have been vaccinated to forgo masks and social distancing," the blog post read.
However, employers should pay attention to state and local regulations, as well, experts note.