Employers must check vaccination status for workers to go maskless

Labor and Industries released new guidance for mask wearing and the workplace.

The guidelines came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced fully-vaccinated people would no longer need to wear a mask indoors or out.

Washington was quick to adopt those guidelines. After a week, Public Health Seattle and King County issued a directive encouraging everyone to continue wearing masks indoors. Labor and Industries is responsible for keeping the workplace safe. Their guidelines say employers must confirm the vaccination status of employees before allowing them to take off their masks and no longer socially distance. While the employer doesn’t need to keep a copy of the vaccination card or an attestation letter, they do need to keep a record that it was checked, and use the same method for all employees.

“For us, we hope it’s an incentive for people to get vaccinated,” said Matt Ross of Labor and Industries. “We want to be able to go into a workplace and see the employer has some system in place where they’ve verified their employees without masks are vaccinated.”

Kerri Lonergan-Dreke is the owner of Lombardi’s Italian Restaurants and Catering. She has three locations, in Bellingham, Everett and Mill Creek.

After the CDC adjusted the masking guidelines, she required her employees to show their vaccination card if they want to take off their masks. The new Labor and Industries guidelines reinforce what she was already doing.

“I think it’s a positive all around, and I would much rather have the opportunity to let vaccinated staff take off their masks when they can show they’ve been vaccinated, than just to have this blanket policy where everybody needs to stay masked,” said Lonergan-Dreke. She said it is simple, she just looks at their vaccination cards.

She was glad to see the CDC change the mask guidance. “We’ve had more and more guests, I’ll say, who are pushing back about wearing masks now that they’re vaccinated, and in some cases they were getting hostile and abusive with staff.”

While she sees this as a good option now, she doesn’t think Labor and Industries should require it long-term. Eventually, when enough people are vaccinated and COVID rates drop, she’d like unvaccinated employees to have the option to take off their masks too.

Thinking back over the pandemic over the last 15 months, Lonergan-Dreke sums it up like this: “It’s like being on a rollercoaster in hell with a blindfold. I’m adding that blindfold piece because we never know what’s coming.”