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Masks Off? What Employers Need to Know About Changes to California’s Mask Mandates
On June 15, 2021, the State of California took a step towards returning to some normalcy when it officially reopened for business after over a year of restrictions and closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, the state announced it would be easing, for vaccinated individuals, some of the restrictions set in place regarding capacity limits, social distancing, and mask wearing.
One of the significant changes in the restrictions is that fully vaccinated individuals can resume everyday activities mask-free in nearly all settings, except in certain settings such as public transit; healthcare and long-term care facilities; indoors in K-12 schools, childcare and other youth settings; correctional facilities and detention centers; and homeless shelters, emergency shelters, and cooling centers.
On the other hand, unvaccinated individuals will still be required to use masks in all indoor public settings and businesses. This includes indoor malls, movie theaters, and state and local government offices.
What Does the Revised Mask Mandate Mean for California Employers?
Effective June 17, 2021, the state’s new guidelines for mask wearing provide employers with the option of allowing fully vaccinated employees to stop wearing masks while on the job. This does not mean that an employer can no longer require employees (including those who are vaccinated) to wear a mask while indoors at the workplace, and any employee can certainly continue wearing a mask if they choose.
California employers who choose to allow fully vaccinated employees to work indoors without masks will need to document which employees in their workplace received their vaccination. Employers can track an employee’s vaccination status in different ways. For example, employers can request that employees provide proof of vaccination – either through a copy of their vaccination card or a health care document showing their vaccination status. Alternatively, employees can self-attest to their vaccination status, and employers must maintain a record of each employee who self-attests. Employers must take care to ensure that this documentation or any records regarding an employee’s vaccination status remain confidential.
Additionally, all employees – regardless of vaccination status – may still be required to wear masks indoors if their workplaces see a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Exemptions to Mask Requirements Remain in Place
California employers should also remember that the exemptions to the mask wearing requirements remain in place, and apply to unvaccinated workers. The exemptions to the mask wearing requirements apply to individuals who: are under two years old; have a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask; are hearing impaired, or are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication; and for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
Employers can also consult legal counsel when questions arise on issues such as how to appropriately gather information regarding an employee’s vaccination status.