April 2, 2021

Mask-Wearing of Vaccinated Employees in the Workplace

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its public health recommendations for those who have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. We reported previously that fully vaccinated persons will not be required to quarantine when exposed to someone with COVID-19 if it has been two weeks since their final vaccine dose and they are asymptomatic. (See Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People | CDC.) However, the new interim recommendations have confused employers and left many wondering: Do vaccinated employees still need to wear facial coverings or masks at work, especially when other coworkers have also been vaccinated?

In most instances, the answer to that question remains “yes.” On March 29, Governor Andy Beshear signed Executive Order 2021-212, which continues to require members of the public to wear facial coverings in situations and settings that present a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, regardless of their vaccination status. That includes indoor public spaces where it is difficult to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet from all individuals who are not members of that person’s household. In addition, the state’s Healthy at Work requirements remain in effect for any public venues and event spaces or fitness centers, including wearing masks.

Likewise, the CDC continues to caution employers that “workers should wear masks (unless respirators or facemasks are required) in accordance with CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance and any state or local requirements.” Furthermore, the CDC states, “…testing following an exposure and through routine workplace screening programs (if present) is still recommended.”

After a person has been fully vaccinated, the CDC has indicated that while in private settings they may start doing some things they had stopped doing because of the pandemic; however, in work settings, even after employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine, they may still need to take steps to protect themselves and others. Thus, employers should continue to follow the CDC’s Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to COVID-19. This includes wearing well-fitted masks, social distancing, washing hands, and encouraging employees to stay home when sick. If other workplace health and safety measures, such as engineering controls (e.g., barrier protections) were installed, they need to remain in place.

Lastly, it is important to conduct a thorough assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards related to COVID-19. Widespread vaccination of employees can be one consideration for restarting operations and returning to the workplace. Other considerations for returning to the workplace include:

  • The necessity for employees to physically return to the workplace and whether telework options can be continued.
  • Community transmission rates of SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (i.e., how many infections there are and how fast it is spreading). 
  • The ability of employees to practice social distancing and other prevention measures, such as wearing masks, when in the workplace. 
  • Business-specific closures and restrictions under state or local laws.

Upon reviewing these recommendations, we encourage you to discuss any situations unique to your workplace with your city attorney and the local health department.

If you have any questions about this or any other personnel-related matter, please contact Personnel Services Manager Andrea Shindlebower Main or Personnel Services Attorney Justin Hocking.