The rules for keeping workers safe can be difficult to navigate.
By Lauren Hirsch
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For executives planning to reopen offices in the coming months, Thursday was a doozy of a news day: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unexpectedly issued new mask rules, and Delta became the first major U.S. company to require the coronavirus vaccine for new employees.
The Covid-19 precautions companies must take to keep their workers safe can seem like a moving target.
Here’s what we do know: Generally, employers are allowed to require employees to be vaccinated. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance in December stating that vaccine mandates are legal. But this is complicated by proposed legislation in a number of states that would restrict companies’ abilities to set such requirements, and it may be further complicated by the fact that all the vaccines only have conditional approval for emergency use. Pfizer and BioNTech recently applied for full approval for their vaccine, but the process is likely to take months.
We also know, as reflected by DealBook readers’ responses when The Times wrote about the vaccine mandate dilemma, that opinions about the roles and responsibilities of companies vary widely. Whether executives are prepared to follow through on the implications of a vaccine mandate is also up for debate.
Some readers said employers should mandate vaccines to protect workers. “I have Type 1 diabetes, and if I catch Covid-19, it could potentially have serious consequences for me,” wrote one reader. “I do not want to return to the office unless I know that everyone else around me has been vaccinated.”
Others said companies that require vaccines are overstepping their boundaries.
For many readers, though, the whole issue just prompted more questions. Here are answers to four of the most common ones.
What does the new C.D.C. guidance on masks and distancing mean?
Justin McMath in Chicago asks, “Will employers (in part or in full) be responsible for ensuring all employees not wearing masks are in fact vaccinated?”
“If they want to permit employees to remove masks indoors, yes, I believe it does put the burden on the employer to verify,” said Kristin White, a lawyer at Fisher Phillips who specializes in workplace safety regulations.
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