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In early May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. According to the new guidance, those who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance themselves in most indoor and outdoor settings. However, exceptions to the CDC’s guidance remain, including settings where masks are required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, and when other rules and regulations, like those for local businesses and the workplace, apply.

While many saw the CDC’s updated recommendations as important progress and a big step toward fully reopening the economy, many employers wondered how to proceed. Should mask requirements and social-distancing policies in the office be relaxed? What about un-vaccinated workers? And how are OSHA rules, which require workplaces to be free from known hazards, impacted by the CDC guidelines?

Your HR experts at Ethan Allen are breaking down the big questions around the CDC’s latest guidance, what the updates mean for Hudson Valley businesses, and how to move forward with re-opening your office safely.

Do the CDC’s new recommendations for vaccinated people impact local orders or state rules requiring mask wearing and social distancing?

No. The CDC does not have authority over state or local governing bodies and the guidance issued by the CDC is not legally binding. The CDC’s recommendations only tell the public what behaviors the CDC believes are safe based on the information they have and their expertise with contagious and infectious diseases. The updates issued by the CDC also only apply to fully vaccinated people, meaning those who have received a vaccine and two weeks have passed since their last vaccine dose.

As of May 19th, New York State did adopt the CDC recommendations. However, according to the announcement, schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and healthcare settings will remain exempt from the new guidance until more New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance issued in January recommended that employers implement COVID-19 prevention programs and the use of face coverings. How do the new CDC guidelines impact OSHA rules?

OSHA is currently reviewing the recent CDC guidance and plans to update their materials and workplace recommendations accordingly. However, the agency has said that employers may follow the CDC’s new mask guidance and permit fully vaccinated employees to stop wearing face coverings in the workplace. They also noted that state and local mask mandates do still apply and OSHA encouraged employers to review applicable mask mandates when considering whether to remove masking requirements for their employees.

I want to allow vaccinated employees to remove their masks at work per the CDC’s latest recommendations. Can I verify the vaccination status of my employees?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that employers may ask about the vaccination status of their employees and questions related to vaccine status are not prohibited medical inquiries. Employers may also request proof of COVID-19 vaccination because this request is not likely to elicit information about a disability that would prohibit the inquiry. Employers are encouraged to develop written protocols and policies for requiring, collecting, and confirming vaccination information from employees. Workplace vaccination policies must also comply with the ADA, Title VII, etc.

What does the new CDC guidance mean for employees who are not yet vaccinated?

Employees who have not been vaccinated or who are not fully vaccinated must still wear masks indoors and should socially distance themselves according to the CDC. The change in CDC recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated is due to the proven effectiveness of available vaccines. Despite declines in COVID-19 case numbers and deaths, those who are un-vaccinated are not protected against COVID-19 and should continue with the same precautions as they have been throughout the pandemic.

What can I do to keep my employees safe and minimize workplace conflicts surrounding masks and vaccinations?

If your business does not already have a mask policy in place, now would be a good time to create one. An effective policy should include clear rules and guidance around wearing masks in the workplace and how policy violations and masking issues should be reported. It is also important to clearly communicate acceptable workplace behavior regarding masks and vaccinations with employees to prevent conflicts and confrontations in cases of disagreement. Ultimately, nothing in the new CDC guidelines requires a change in workplace rules. If you prefer a cautious approach for your Hudson Valley business, continuing the required use of masks at work is an acceptable policy.

Still have questions regarding the CDC recommendations and their impact on New York State employers? Reach out to the experts at Ethan Allen HR Services today.


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