With all the new guidance from the CDC (which relaxed mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals), many employers are unsure what employee policies to implement for masks in the workplace. Organizations need to balance employee morale with local, state, and federal HR compliance guidelines. If they service clients or customers on-site, they also need to consider what will make this group feel most comfortable. Otherwise, their bottom line might be affected by the employee policies they implement. Below are key strategies from MP’s HR services team for how to handle masks in the workplace.
7 Key Strategies for Developing a Workplace Mask Policy
1. Be aware of state, local and industry laws and orders.
These will supersede anything else, especially if they’re stricter than the federal guidelines (which allow for fully vaccinated people to not wear a mask or socially distance, indoors or outdoors). To reach and maintain HR legal compliance, employers should go by the strictest guidelines, be they federal, local, state, or industry.
2. Get input from workers on employee policies regarding masks.
Because this is such a sensitive subject, a best practice would be to run an anonymous survey to gain insights on employee perspectives surrounding returning to work and health and safety. (MP offers tools that can help with this task.) Employers can ask a few things: vaccination status or plans, whether employees would prefer a mask and social distancing requirement on-site, what employees are most concerned about right now, and to leave room for feedback on the way the organization is handling the pandemic. Collecting this type of data and insight will help a leadership team determine the best policies for their specific organization. Employers should note that this practice itself of giving a voice to the whole team in such important matters will be very impactful. It will help establish trust and buy-in with employees—now, and in the future.
3. Track and handle vaccination status with HR and compliance in mind.
Never share vaccination status with anybody else and keep any records with employee’s vaccination status confidential in accordance with ADA requirements. Employees cannot be asked to wear special buttons marking them as vaccinated. Employers also shouldn’t create teams of vaccinated workers to handle certain tasks, as this will give away vaccination status. If a worker is asked about their vaccination status by a customer or client, support their right not to answer or share any information that makes them uncomfortable. This will be important for an organization to remain ADA compliant, in addition to other HR compliance concerns.
4. Let employees know that masks are still welcome.
Clearly state that fully vaccinated employees (and managers, clients, etc.) may continue to wear masks if it makes them more comfortable. Elaborate that wearing a mask doesn’t denote vaccination status or any particular beliefs and others shouldn’t make assumptions about those who continue to wear their masks. If employees, customers, vendors, etc. hassle somebody for wearing a mask, upper management should quickly end that interaction and support the right of the mask wearer.
5. Document and share final employee policies regarding mask wearing.
For optimum human resource compliance, employers should share these policies in a written form that is easy to read and easy to reference. It could be posted on an intranet or posted in a break room. It’s also important for employers to add an acknowledgement page that employees sign and return upon receipt. These acknowledgements can be kept on file. They will protect the company in the case that there are any legal, compliance or discipline issues.
6. Stay updated on state, local, federal and industry guidelines. Change employee policies accordingly.
The CDC, OSHA, and state governments are still updating their guidance. To maintain compliance, employers need to keep apprised of any updates. They will also want to stay updated on local guidelines and trends for the sake of their business if they serve customers or clients.
7. Proceed slowly and gradually with employee policies for masks.
HR compliance experts suggest implementing and changing mask policies slowly. It would be ideal to release a policy at least a few weeks before it takes effect. This will give employees time to consider and get comfortable with how this policy will impact their workday. It will also give employees who need it time to request an ADA accommodation and for the interactive process. Gradual and slow implementation of any policies is the best way to increase buy-in from the whole team.
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