Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-25-2021: How to enforce masks rules at work without breaching ADA confidentiality rules

If an employer is supposed to keep an employee's vaccination status as a confidential medical record, how is an employer supposed to enforce the CDC's most recent guidance that permits fully vaccinated individuals to unmask? 

The EEOC makes it clear that an employer encounters zero legal impediments from "asking or requiring an employee to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19." But once you obtain that information from an employee, you still must maintain it as a confidential medical record under the ADA. The ADA requires employers to keep confidential any medical information they learn about any employee and store it confidentially and separately from an employee's personnel information. An employer may only disclose this information to other personnel on a "need to know" basis.

So, if you intend to follow the CDC guidelines, you need a process to know which employees are vaccinated and which are not, which would involve the disclosure of vaccination status. Then, you need to communicate that information on a limited basis to those managers or supervisors who need to know that information to enforce your mask rule for the unvaccinated. As long as you limit the disclosure to the narrowest group who reasonably and in good faith legitimately need to know which employees are, and are not, vaccinated, in this employment lawyer's opinion such disclosure should pass muster under the ADA's confidentiality rules. (As with all things, check with your own employment counsel before rolling out such a policy, "just in case.")

Jon, you ask, won't everyone know who is and is not vaccinated just by looking at who's marked versus maskless? No really, as some fully vaccinated employees may choose to keep wearing a mask. Moreover, even if only unvaccinated employees wore masks, that would be a function of you following CDC guidelines, not the result of a breach of confidentiality.

Tomorrow, vaccine-status harassment.

* Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash