Should retailers continue to require associates and customers to wear masks?
Americans who have received full doses of COVID-19 vaccines (one or two shots, depending on the manufacturer) and have allowed at least two weeks to pass will now be free to go about their daily activities without wearing a mask. This applies both to outdoor as well as most indoor activities, with the exception of airline travel, public transport and certain other mandated situations. Everyone else needs to keep wearing masks, particularly in indoor environments. Those are the basic rules laid out in new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provided the caveat that citizens should continue to follow local and/or state rules as they apply to mask wearing.
The guidance did not specifically address businesses, although the takeaways seem clear for public-facing companies. Masks should continue to be worn by all that have not been vaccinated even when state or local rules say otherwise. That means, in practical terms, that unless a retailer has a way to verify people have been vaccinated before they enter stores, it is prudent that they continue to enforce mask wearing rules. This seems to be particularly true in locations where COVID-19 disinformation is prevalent and vaccination rates are low.
Business owners and employers are being cautioned by workplace experts not to fling open the doors and throw away their masks just yet.
Kevin Troutman, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Houston, told SHRM Online, that employers should wait until the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updates its workplace safety guidance before making any changes.
The New York Times reports that some states have lifted mandates following the CDC’s announcement and others are holding off. Governors in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia all said they were reviewing the guidance. Others in Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania have begun to lift mandates.
Businesses want clarity so it’s no surprise that many are not doing a happy dance after the CDC’s announcement.
Lisa LaBruno, senior executive vice president, retail operations and innovation at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said yesterday that the CDC had created ambiguity and “conflicting positions put retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations.”
“We urge all retail customers and guests to follow a store’s safety protocols including wearing a mask and social distancing,” said Ms. Bruno. “Frontline workers deserve this respect. Retailers encourage customers that do not want to wear a mask to shop online or via curbside pickup offerings.”
- When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Workplace Experts Advise Caution as CDC Lifts Mask Recommendations – SHRM
- Some states lift mask mandates for vaccinated people, while others greet the new C.D.C. guidance with caution. – The New York Times
- Retailers Want Consistency on Mask Guidance – Retail Industry Leaders Association
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you advise retailers to address mask wearing and social distancing in stores at this point in time? What are the implications for retailers that lift mask requirements in places where such restrictions are unpopular and COVID-19 vaccine rates are low?