Aug 2021

Last week, the CDC changed its guidance once again to recommend that all individuals, even those who are vaccinated, wear masks indoors. Previously, only unvaccinated individuals were encouraged to wear masks when indoors. This new recommendation applies to specific geographic areas – counties whose COVID-19 transmission rates are either High or Substantial. The CDC website provides updated information on all counties across the U.S.

Keep in mind that local departments of health as well as counties and states can implement recommendations or requirements that go beyond the CDC’s guidance. Of note, shortly after this new CDC announcement, the California Department of Public Health made their own recommendation that individuals across the entire state return to wearing masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status or the county’s transmission rate.

Los Angeles, Sacramento, and several other counties in the Northern California Bay areas have gone a step further – mandating the wearing of masks indoors for all.

Hawaii, who has yet to lift indoor mask mandates, announced last week their intention to keep the indoor mask mandate in place until 70% of the state’s population is vaccinated.

And while employers are trying to keep abreast of the changing mask rules, confusion still reigns regarding vaccination policies. The EEOC has maintained that employers are free to require that all employees be vaccinated, provided that reasonable accommodation is provided to those with religious or medical reasons which prevent the person from getting a vaccine. So far, such vaccination policies appear to be standing up to legal challenges.

Some employers (including Google, Netflix) are taking a hardline approach, letting employees know that in order to continue being employed, they need to provide proof of vaccination. Other employers are giving workers a choice – get vaccinated or subject yourself to an onerous set of consequences such as weekly tests, wearing masks, social distancing, and restricted job assignments. The federal government is beginning to take this latter approach and has said they will try to encourage all employers to follow suit.

However, to further complicate matters, several states (including Arizona, Arkansas) are either proposing or have already enacted legislation that prevents mostly public employers from mandatory vaccination policies.

This is clearly a rapidly evolving landscape that requires employers to keep tabs daily on the changes. It’s enough to make your head spin, whether or not you’re wearing a mask!

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