In May of 2021, the CDC issued guidance that fully vaccinated individuals could stop wearing masks and observing social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings. However, in the following months, the delta variant of COVID-19 has presented a resurgence in cases across the country. This uptick forced the CDC to reevaluate its guidance to again recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks in certain indoor public spaces, especially considering many of these COVID spikes are occurring in the least vaccinated areas of the United States.
In response to the new delta reality and related guidance from the CDC, many big-box retailers, large restaurant chains, and other businesses have begun to again require their employees to wear masks – regardless of vaccination status – in “high-risk” US counties (as determined by new CDC rankings). Some of these businesses are also requiring their customers in these counties to wear masks, while others are only strongly encouraging the practice.
Many retailers are also beginning to mandate vaccines for their employees – whether in corporate offices or on the frontlines of customer interaction. To help encourage vaccination, businesses have started coming up with creative incentives, such as offering bonuses to vaccinated workers, additional paid time off, and free transportation to and from necessary vaccination appointments. Relatedly, several large businesses are beginning to extend their “return to office” dates in response to the elevated cases in order to give their employees additional time to get vaccinated.
Though the federal government and some courts have opined that employers can require vaccination, a landlord’s right to require vaccination of its tenants and their employees is not currently clear. As localities begin to re-issue mask mandates and even vaccination mandates for certain activities, retailers and landlords should engage counsel familiar with all related laws before proceeding with any new requirements for their employees, tenants, or guests.