Masks, COVID-19 and vaccines in the workplace: What are your rights?

Can employers require masks?
Can employers require masks?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The CDC eased masking guidelines for fully vaccinated people on Thursday.

People who have received their second coronavirus vaccine dose at least two weeks ago don’t have to wear a mask outdoors and in many indoor settings as well. However, the rules may change if you’re at work or inside a store. News4Jax anchor Jen Waugh asked employment lawyer Andy Trusevich on The Morning Show to explain the rights workers have.

Can employers require workers to wear masks if they are not fully vaccinated?

“They can,” Trusevich said. “Private business and theme parks can still have their own policies.”

Can employers require workers to get vaccinated?

Yes. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its guidelines for companies last December. It states that businesses can require employees to be vaccinated or wear masks. However, there are two exceptions to the rule.

“One is the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Trusevich. “Meaning I have adverse reactions to vaccines so, therefore I’m not going to take the vaccine. Two, religious beliefs and certainly held religious beliefs. The old example, I’m not going to take a blood transfusion, because it’s against my religious beliefs.”

Trusevich added that unless an employer is in healthcare, he would not recommend any company requiring its employees to get vaccinated.

Could an employee sue their employer for being fired for not wearing a mask?

“An employer could fire somebody for that, but then that opens them up to discrimination lawsuits. So far, I know of one lawsuit filed in federal court in New Mexico. It was a correctional guard and he was threatened with termination if he doesn’t get vaccinated. He has since filed a federal lawsuit that is in the works. But the answer is yes, they can require that as a condition of employment.”

Can an employee sue their employer if they contracted COVID-19 at the office?

“Most employers have workers compensation so that the employee would have to prove that they actually got it at work because the coworker next to them was not vaccinated and transmitted it. It’s a high burden, but it would go under workers comp. So they couldn’t sue because of worker’s comp, but it would be a worker’s comp claim. So businesses have a lot of minefields, too. They have to abide by the EEOC guidelines, OSHA guidelines, the Department of Labor guidelines and then state guidelines like Governor DeSantis’ law that he signed into law,” said Trusevich, referring to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on vaccine passports and suspension of local government COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates.

Are stores allowed to turn away customers for not wearing a mask?

“They are. The new law in Florida exempts private businesses and theme parks to be able to do whatever restriction they want. Again, I think what you’re going to see is many businesses came out and said today that they’re not going to require customers to wear face masks,” Trusevich said.

He suggests businesses such as stores or restaurants where employees interact with customers should continue to require their employees to wear masks.