Across the country, government mask mandates are being lifted, students are attending schools without masks, and people are beginning to resume activities that were curtailed when the Omicron variant was spreading like wildfire only a few short weeks ago. Many employers are watching these trends carefully as they make plans to resume, expand, or modify their in-person work policies and practices.
Many employers are asking the same questions… Should vaccination mandates remain? What about mask requirements? Should remote work be curtailed?
Recent polls suggest that, while government mandates have scaled back, the majority of Americans still are not ready to go back to “normal”, pre-pandemic activities without restrictions. A recent Axios-Ipsos poll, published on March 1, suggests that a majority of American workers support keeping precautions in place. In fact, a slight majority still supported businesses requiring individuals to show proof of vaccination before entry.
How Employers Can Handle the Return to “Normal”
1. Include Employees in the Decision-Making Process
For employers looking to navigate these issues, these studies suggest that bringing employees back to the office and removing mask and vaccination requirements is likely to be unpopular with most employees right now. As we discussed in a recent article, most employees, whose jobs permit it, want to see remote work become a permanent fixture of their work life. Before removing mask or vaccination requirements, employers should solicit feedback from their employees as to whether they are comfortable with the company making such a move, particularly if it is coupled with a mandatory return to in-person work.
Engaging your employees on this issue is likely to have benefits beyond ensuring that they feel safe at work. Studies show that a critical way to build employee morale and loyalty is to include them in decision-making processes at work. Allowing your employees to have a say in how the return to “normal” process is managed makes them feel like valued members of a team, rather than cogs in a machine.
2. Be Flexible to Future Changes
Finally, keep in mind that any decision does not have to be permanent. The Axios-Ipsos poll also reflects that public sentiment continues to shift as case counts and hospitalizations decrease. What might feel like an unacceptable health and safety risk to employees today might not feel like a risk in two weeks’ time. Employers should keep this in mind and build flexibility into any policies that they revise or implement related to easing precautions surrounding COVID-19.
If you have questions about how to revise or update your company’s mask or vaccination policies, please contact one of our attorneys at (410) 522-1020 to set up an appointment to discuss how your policies can be structured to meet your company’s goals.