More than 20 states now require people to wear masks in certain circumstances, and some business groups and worker advocates say state and local leaders are not doing enough to enforce the mandates, which are meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“Current local and state mandatory mask requirements vary widely in scope, application and enforcement,” said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, joined by several other business groups, in a letter to federal and state lawmakers. “In addition, in some locations the mandate is imposed on businesses for them to enforce.” The business groups said this has contributed to public confusion as well as confrontations between customers and employees and increased litigation.
The business groups called on federal and state lawmakers to:
- Develop guidelines and metrics for local mask mandates in public spaces.
- Create simple, model mandatory mask policies that don’t impose the enforcement burden on businesses.
- Make clear that organizations will not be held liable for refusing entry or services to people who refuse to comply with mask mandates.
“To be clear, the decision to impose face covering requirements should remain at the state or local level but be informed by clear and consistent guidance based on data,” the groups said.
Union Calls for Universal Mask Mandate
The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW)—which represents grocery, food processing and packinghouse workers—is also advocating for stronger mask policies and enforcement. The union, however, wants masks to be required in all public spaces in the country. “As COVID-19 spikes across the country continue to put America’s frontline workers at risk, it is time for governors, members of Congress, and the Trump administration to step up and make public mask mandates the law in all 50 states,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. In a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on July 12, the union said that “requiring fabric mask use in public places could be amongst the most powerful tools to stop the community spread of COVID-19.”
Workers Left to Enforce Rules
Without stronger local enforcement efforts, retail leaders say, policing statewide mask mandates becomes the responsibility of vulnerable retail and restaurant workers. “Public health officials and local governments are in the best position to enforce these requirements,” said Jason Straczewski, vice president for government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.
Ask HR: Can Companies Require Masks?
SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. In response to a question about company-mandated masks, Taylor said, “Yes, employers may absolutely require workers to wear masks.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that employers can require employees to wear masks or other protective clothing—such as gloves and gowns—during a pandemic. Masks are also recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and certain states and municipalities have their own laws requiring masks. However, some workers may be exempt from such rules because of safety risks or medical conditions. SHRM requires employees who are working in the organization’s offices to wear masks when in common areas, such as break rooms, hallways and bathrooms.
CDC Guidance Reiterates Importance of Cloth Face Masks
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in some states, the CDC reiterated the importance of wearing cloth face masks to contain the virus, noting that doing so is most likely to be effective when masks are “widely used by people in public settings.” In an update posted June 28, the CDC explained more forcefully than in the past that its face-covering recommendations are based on science and supported by emerging studies.
Creating Workplace Mask Policies
Businesses in multiple jurisdictions must carefully plan their workplace safety strategies as some states continue to reopen in phases and others pull back due to spikes in coronavirus cases. Developing policies and best practices for wearing masks in the workplace can be particularly daunting as employers grapple with different regional rules and evolving federal guidelines. Here are some tips for employers.
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