How to Build the Perfect Masking Policy

pile of disposable masks for masking policy for businesses

Note: State and local laws are changing rapidly. Employers may be subject to state and local mask mandates, state and local COVID-19 workplace safety guidance, and industry-specific guidance. Local and state safety guidance is outside the scope of our services, but we recommend reaching out to your local health department or state agency to determine if any mandates apply to your business before creating your masking policy.

So you’re considering adding a Masking Policy to your employee handbook. Or maybe you already have one and are looking to revise it given vaccination rates in your area. Whatever the reason, this guide will walk you through considerations to craft the perfect masking policy for your business.

1. Does your state, county, or city require masks?

If yes, go to #2. If no, go to #3.

2. Follow your state, county, or city mask mandates.

If your state, county, or cities does require masks, your policy should at minimum reflect these mandates. However, note that:

  • You CAN be more restrictive by making more people wear masks than required.
  • You CANNOT be less restrictive (at least not without significant risk).

Additionally, review #4 and #6 below, which may have applicable considerations.

3. Making rules at your own discretion.

If state and local law do not require masks for anyone, employers can make rules at their discretion. If you fall into this category, you should keep in mind:

  • How you proceed is ultimately a business decision. It’s a good idea to involve your leaders (especially those who will have to enforce your policies!) in the decision-making process.
  • You may want to anonymously survey your workforce about vaccination status to assess the risk of bringing everyone back without masks. (In theory, the risk of spread in the workplace would be higher if a larger population of your workforce was unvaccinated).

If you plan to require masks for all employees, go to #4. Alternatively, to require masks for no employees, go to #5. To allow masks-off for the vaccinated and require masks-on for the unvaccinated, go to #6.

4. Policy requiring masks for everyone.

If you plan to require masks for all employees, be prepared for possible push-back. Specifically, fully-vaccinated employees may resent this decision.

In the short term, such a policy avoids the administrative burden of tracking who is vaccinated or not. This can buy you some time to consider whether a policy change is best for the company and how to implement any change.

Although OSHA has deferred to the new CDC guidance, they are in the process of updating their recommendations. Some employers may want to wait until OSHA has issued their own guidance, which may be more restrictive or specific than what the CDC has provided.

5. Policy allowing masks-off for all employees.

On the other hand, if you plan to allow masks-off for all employees, keep in mind that you still have employer safety responsibilities. Under OSHA, employers have a general duty to provide a workplace free of hazards.

The pandemic is not over. And if there is an outbreak in your workplace, it could be bad for both productivity and the company’s reputation–and may also lead to OSHA penalties and oversight. (More tips to keep your workplace safe from COVID-19 here!

If you plan to go this route, you should consider:

  • Some vaccinated employees will not be well protected, such as those undergoing cancer treatment or taking immunosuppressants.
  • The safety and comfort of customers and clients doing business with you and your employees.
  • If an employee wants to continue to wear a mask, we recommend they be allowed to do so. For employees with disabilities, or those who are immunocompromised, this will be a reasonable accommodation, and refusing to allow it would be a violation of the ADA.

6. Policy allowing vaccinated employees to stop wearing masks and requiring masks for unvaccinated employees.

If you plan to have a policy of masks-off for vaccinated employees and masks-on for unvaccinated employees, the first question to ask yourself is how you will determine an employee’s vaccination status.

A policy like this will either be on the honor system or require verification. If requiring verification, that information will need to be kept confidential and should be stored separately from an employee’s personnel file.

You should ask for the minimal amount of information necessary to verify vaccination status, such as the employee’s CDC vaccination card or a copy of their immunization record. Employees should be instructed to avoid providing unrelated medical information. Additionally:

  • You should avoid asking employees why they are not vaccinated, as this can get into ADA medical inquiry territory.
  • Remember that employees who don’t want to wear masks, but are required to, have a right to complain about it, even publicly.
  • At least one state (so far, Montana) has passed a law that you cannot treat vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently. Check for state law, local law, and Executive Orders that may apply to your organization in case any similar laws apply to your business.

Next Steps

Even a year and a half into the pandemic, many businesses are still struggling with changing laws and guidance. If you haven’t already, be sure to bookmark our COVID-19 Business Resources Hub for the latest information affecting your business.

Need a little extra support creating your masking policy? No matter your situation, SDP has layers of HR support that can help. Learn more about our HR Support Services here. And don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn for even more business tips & news!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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