Shifting mask mandates: What your small business needs to know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced updated guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which would allow them to forgo wearing masks or physically distancing in public settings except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including guidance established by local businesses and workplaces. 

We know many small business owners may have questions about what this means for their business’s own requirements, and what they need to do to keep their customers and employees safe. We’ve put together a preliminary list of reminders for businesses to take into account when considering your business strategy given the changes in COVID-19 guidance:

  1. Check with your state, local tribal or territorial rules and regulations: It’s important to remember that the CDC’s announcement is guidance, not federal law. Some states or localities may continue to require individuals to wear masks while out in public and that may change in the upcoming weeks. If your state hasn’t announced any changes in mask restrictions, a local or county ordinance could supersede your state laws, so be sure to check with your local municipalities.
  2. As a business owner, you have the right to require masks as a condition of providing services. Even if there isn’t a state or local ordinance in place, you may choose to require customers to wear masks while inside of your business.
  3. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is reviewing CDC’s interim guidance and will update their materials on this website. Until then, they advise to refer to CDC’s guidance for information on appropriate measures to protect fully vaccinated workers.
  4. You may be able to ask customers for proof of vaccination. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws are designed to ensure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide healthcare and to protect the public’s health and well being. Therefore, HIPAA laws do not apply to the average person or to a business outside of healthcare. Asking customers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination would not be in violation of HIPAA laws or privacy since customers would provide this information voluntarily.

We will continue to update this blog as more information becomes available.

NOTE: If you are looking for guidance on providing vaccine resources to your employees, visit the Health Action Alliance.

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