Last Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order removing most of the state’s masking requirements, capacity limits, and social distancing rules. Over the past week, I have heard from members that this news came with a partial sigh of relief but also uncertainty as businesses are looking to strike a balance between employee and patron safety concerns and the state’s newest COVID-19 safety guidance.
First and foremost, we support job creators determining what’s right for them and will continue empowering you to do so. You have proven your ability to adapt time and time again over the past year, and that you are ready, willing, and equipped to ensure a safe environment for your employees and the communities you serve. Business is the backbone of our state’s economic recovery and future growth and we must be trusted to re-engage with our customers and stakeholders.
However, we want to take the opportunity to remind members what this news will mean for you and share some important facts to consider while navigating this new normal within the NC business community.
What the order does:
• Lifts most mask requirements, capacity limits, and social distancing rules.
• Enables private businesses to continue requiring customers and employees to wear masks.
• Recommends that unvaccinated individuals continue wearing a mask in recommended settings and maintain social distance.
• Upholds a mask mandate for all individuals, unvaccinated and vaccinated, in settings such as public transportation, childcare, congregate housing, camps, schools, and health care settings.
• Strongly recommends wearing a mask indoors at large venues such as sporting events.
What to consider:
• Keep up to date: Currently, the Governor and CDC recommend only vaccinated people go without masks in indoor settings. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) will publish updated guidelines this month, which we would encourage businesses to review and consider. The NC Chamber does regard the CDC as a trusted authority; however, it is important to note that CDC guidance does not preempt state or local laws.
• Engage your response team: Utilize your designated team members to educate employees about new workplace rules, as well as the timeliest state and national regulations and any legal implications. As an example, while the EEOC does allow people to ask about vaccination status, having signage that allows some people to unmask and not others could open companies up to legal issues specifically among protected classes, such as individuals with disabilities or those of certain religions. It is something worth considering when determining whether to require masks of patrons.
• Consider interactions with the public: Private businesses can still require face coverings. If you’re a company that plans to still require masks, you know some patrons or even employees may not bring their own masks due to the latest state guidance. Consider how you will address and remedy any unmasked customers or potentially contentious interactions. Providing appropriate signage before people enter the premise sets clear ground rules for all individuals.
• Communicate with employees: Continue to engage in open communication by encouraging verbal and written feedback via the channel you deem most effective for your organization. Create a culture of shared responsibility and continue strong emphasis on handwashing. Also, be prepared to answer common questions such as whether coming back to work is voluntary. Lastly, what is your policy regarding employee vaccination, and how you will remedy employee concerns about returning to work or working with unvaccinated individuals? At the NC Chamber, we’ve already communicated several updates to staff and will continue to provide timely updates as the dynamics and guidance changes.
• Acknowledge the uncertainty: There are reports that as recently as last week, OSHA was considering mandating masks at work, at least for employees who work indoors. The CDC’s May 13th update to its recommendations regarding masks seems to have halted OSHA’s plans, which were already overdue given President Biden’s directive that they develop any necessary emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 by March 15th. At the NC Chamber, we recognize that for business to flourish, predictability and certainty regarding the regulatory and safety environment are of utmost importance. We will continue to press policy leaders to be as decisive as possible and to be equally as decisive in updating their guidance and mandates.
We want every single one of our members to feel well supported and empowered to succeed in this still unpredictable time within the business community. And we encourage you to utilize the NC Chamber as a resource as we navigate this new normal together. We’re reworking our COVID resource page in the coming weeks to account for this dynamic shift and look forward to sharing big changes to that site!
Gary J. Salamido
President and CEO