Office Mask Policy Tips

After a peak shortly after Christmas, the number of Covid-19 infections has continued to taper off, leading many states to relax their mask mandates and other restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.  In recent weeks, several states and jurisdictions have even lifted masking policies in schools, leading to questions from some employers about when it might be safe to relax their own mask guidelines. 

Below, we outline some steps that you should consider as you debate relaxing your own mask policy. 

Consult with state and local guidance: 
Before you even start debating the idiosyncrasies of changing your mask policy, you must first look to your state and local government for their overarching rules. Currently, several states have taken action to relax mask policies in government buildings and other public spaces. This New York Times interactive map constantly updates showing what the policies are for your state. You may also need to check in with your county government website for additional guidance. Once you have the go-ahead from these folks, you can start to consider augmenting your plan but bear in mind that masks have come and gone several times over the past two years in accordance with waxing and waning numbers, so be prepared that their guidance may be fluid. 

Consult with your workers: 
If everyone in your office feels safer wearing a mask, there shouldn’t really be a question as to whether you need to keep masking. However, achieving 100 percent agreement is rather unlikely, so it may be smart to poll your employees about what they would want the mask policy to look like. For example, you could implement a rule whereby workers don’t have to wear a mask when seated in their cubicles but will need to pop one on for meetings or when moving around common areas. Any relaxing of the mask policy should also be pitched as being completely voluntary so that those who prefer wearing a mask can continue to do so.

Base it on job type: 
At this stage in the game, we know that the virus is less likely to spread in outdoor settings, so if your business has at least a portion of your workers outdoors for the majority of the day, you could consider loosening guidelines for these folks. Similarly, if you have workers on an indoor assembly line where they are spaced at least six feet apart, you could consider offering them the option to ditch the masks as they can practice social distancing. However, those that work in tighter quarters, are indoors for most of the time, and those that continue to interact with the public may still want to retain their masks. 

Base it on vaccination status: 
In general, this one might cause more trouble than it’s worth, but some employers are considering basing their in-office mask requirements on their employee’s vaccination status. Since transmission rates and illness severity are generally lower for those who have gotten their required shots of the FDA-approved vaccines and boosters where applicable, the invite to remove masks for these populations may be warranted. However, you must remember that not everyone can be vaccinated and not all of those vaccinated are guaranteed protection. The other sore spot comes when you consider how you would collect this data from employees and whether it could bring about division between the vaccinated and unvaccinated members of your workforce. 

Don’t set it in stone: 
Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen numbers drop significantly, only for a new variant to rise and put us firmly back to square one! In drafting any kind of mask policy for your office, make it clear to workers that any policy remains subject to change based on state and local policies, as well as the comfort level of your business, its employees, and even the customers. In keeping it fluid and letting workers know that it is subject to change, you protect yourself from backlash from those who become bent out of shape when a policy change — far out of your control — prompts you to change course.