By Diana Jones
Human Resources Manager

As cases of COVID-19 drop and the percentage of people vaccinated increases across the United States, many states are beginning to relax their mandates, providing an opportunity for life to return to normal. Now that 33.5 million people have actively had COVID-19 and over 150 million people have been vaccinated, the United States is quickly approaching herd immunity.

Shop owners have taken this pandemic seriously: They reduced their hours (often because they couldn’t afford to keep employees on), switched to shop by appointment only, changed the layout of their store to promote social distancing, required masks, cleaned and sanitized surfaces, and provided hand sanitizer. Now that the CDC has determined that if you are vaccinated you no longer need to mask, that has allowed some shops to comfortably move forward and remove the restrictions that were in place.

Best Practices

Some of this is just common sense, but here is a list of items to take into consideration when dealing with your employees or customers who enter your shop. If your state has a mandate in place, we strongly recommend that you follow the guidelines to the best of your ability, but if there are no mandates in place, focus on what you are comfortable with, as well as what the shoppers who will be purchasing from you are comfortable with.

For employees:

  • Vaccinations required?

This is a very tricky subject, mostly because of HIPAA laws. Some employers are requiring their employees to be vaccinated or risk losing their job, and others are providing financial incentives if an employee gets the COVID-19 vaccine. Although there are signs that companies will not be prosecuted for mandating vaccines for employees, the question becomes what happens if an employee sustains a vaccine injury and was coerced by their employer to obtain the vaccine? We will have to see how that plays out legally in the future. As with anything medical, employers need to remember that anything medical is a patient/doctor decision that is based on benefit vs. risk assessment. Allowing employees to make their own determination with the counsel of their health provider is probably the safest way to go.

  • Can you ask employees if they are vaccinated?

HIPAA laws state that sensitive patient health information cannot be disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. Yes, the employee can choose to disclose this to you, but should you even be asking. Don’t put yourself in hot water, because if they tell you they aren’t vaccinated and you treat them differently than other vaccinated employees, is there a lawsuit in the making? Determine for your company if it is worth the risk.

  • To require or not to require masks

This is an owner decision. I’ve seen some establishments require their employees to still mask as a courtesy to their customers, in effect saying, “We care about you.” Even though the CDC says that those vaccinated don’t need to mask and referring back to #2 above regarding asking employees their vaccination status, an honor system mask requirement is probably the best way to go. Allow your employees to make their own decision on wearing a mask or not.

  • Plexiglass dividers at checkout

Continuing to keep the dividers up at the checkout is a great idea if it makes sense for your store. I know many employees who are grateful that those are there, keeping the coughing, sneezing germs of customers at bay. It’s usually much easier to control your employees than to control the health habits of your customers.

When all is said and done, think about how you would like to be treated if you were the employee. The main thing is to give your employees the benefit of the doubt. If you see behavior or poor health habits that concern you and are obvious to the customer (like coughing without covering), let the employee know your expectations and help bring about positive change.