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CDC adopts new masking guidelines. What does that mean for employers?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last Friday - February 25th - that it had adopted new metrics regarding guidelines for mask-wearing across the U.S., greatly reducing the number of people who may need to mask up.

Instead of simply case counts, the new metrics take into account COVID-19 admissions to local hospitals and the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. The CDC will now measure each county’s COVID-19 spread as low, medium, or high based on those metrics. Only counties measured with high spread have guidance that states all individuals should wear masks while indoors in public.

This shift will result in most Americans no longer being advised to wear masks in indoor public settings, which may prompt employers to consider their masking policies in a new light.

CDC’s guidance is not binding for employers. However, since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) routinely refers back to CDC guidance regarding masking and COVID-19 policy, the CDC’s stance is still critically important. Employers will also need to ensure they still comply with local and state COVID-19 regulations.

Compliance attorneys agree that OSHA guidance would likely follow CDC’s lead. But employers may have individual workspace concerns that will influence their masking protocols, including the number of vaccinated individuals, quality of ventilation, ability to maintain social distancing, and the presence of employees at high risk of severe illness.

Employers are certainly allowed to maintain protocols that go beyond the CDC’s recommendations. Clear communication of protocol and why it is in place will be key to keeping up morale in the face of restrictions if they are maintained. Employers should realize that there may be resistance to stricter protocols from some employees, managers, and visitors, and be prepared to address that issue, and that employers can "usually discipline" workers that don’t comply with stricter employer mandates.

For employers that do drop their mask mandates entirely, they will need to ensure employees who continue wearing a mask do not face mistreatment from managers or coworkers. It is important that employers make sure their employees know that retaliation, discrimination, and harassment will not be tolerated, and include this prohibition in written policies distributed to all workers.

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EPIA inc. is a private Insurance Agency with no ties with legal entities. The information contained in this article is based on information provided by the HR Dive Official Website. Consumer questions on how to proceed with the new guidelines must consult official governmental sources or compliance layers.

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