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Mask-Wearing and Return to Work

Jun 22, 2021 | 4 min read

Key Takeaways

  • As of May 13, 2021, 58% of American adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
  • The CDC has lifted face mask and social distancing restrictions.
  • Employers may be unclear about what this means for their organization and return to work.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 58% of American adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of May 13, 2021.* As a result, the center lifted face mask restrictions and social distancing—but with caveats, including the need to wear masks in hospitals, health-care settings, public transportation, and other crowded indoor venues.1

This announcement came as good news to many, as it reinforced that normalcy is just around the corner. According to a recent Axios-Ipsos poll, Americans are venturing out into the world at increasing rates as fears about COVID decline. Within a week of the CDC announcement, 54% of respondents shared that they dined outside the home and 59% left their homes to socialize with friends and relatives. These metrics are the highest they’ve been since the pandemic started.2


Why the controversy over mandated mask-wearing?

Unknown variables at the start of the pandemic such as rate of transmission, effectiveness of mask-wearing, and inconsistent regional guidance caused many Americans to question the accuracy of information about COVID-19. Political differences influenced and likely contributed to the varied opinions on mask-wearing and compliance, too.

Many people believe wearing masks restricts freedom. Others feel that not wearing one is selfish as it puts others in danger of contracting the virus.3

To better understand the dispute around mask-wearing, researchers conducted a study to determine the relationship between having a belief in science and mask-wearing behavior.4 The study concluded that a “greater belief in science predicts both greater belief in the effectiveness of face masks in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 and greater reported face mask-wearing in public.”5

Despite the CDC announcement, many medical experts such as Dr. Peter Hotez from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston believe that relaxing efforts like mask-wearing too quickly could have serious consequences, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates.6 Variants, breakthrough infections, and the like may cause many vaccinated people to choose mask-wearing, despite the CDC’s recommendation.


Why the conflict over vaccination passports?

New York State mandated the use of an electronic passport called The Excelsior Pass that allows residents to upload their vaccination confirmation and create a QR code. This allows New Yorkers access to large gatherings such as concerts, theater events, and the like.7 While launched in New York, many other state leaders oppose passports, contending that it violates freedoms—tying in closely to the concept of autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Given these differences, employers may not know where to begin when developing their policy on wearing masks in the workplace.

Seven questions that employers may consider, to help them define their position on mask-wearing

  • Does the CDC lifting mask restrictions mean that the workplace automatically becomes a “mask-free” zone? Are there state and local laws that will apply? In addition, should we consider a way to create and maintain our own mask-wearing rules for the safety of our employee population?
  • Should showing proof of vaccination be voluntary and if so, do those who show it not have to wear a mask?
  • How should we consider the employee’s preference and concerns?
  • If we eliminate a mask mandate, some employees may still wear their mask. Will some employees want to stay home until masks are eliminated? How much flexibility is reasonable?
  • Should we communicate that employee preferences are okay?
  • Should we educate employees on the benefits of wearing a mask if they aren’t vaccinated and/or should we create a “vaccination” movement, encouraging employees to learn about the vaccine and its effectiveness?
  • Should we host Q&A sessions with health and wellness experts?

You may want to consult with your legal and compliance partners in determining the best course of action for your organization.

Remember: In these unprecedented times, any change may cause employee anxiety. Be sure to frequently share the mental health resources you have available to employees.

*At the time of publication, 65.1% of Americans have at least one dose of the vaccine.




Ph.D., CRC, LPC Vice President, Health and Productivity Practice, Prudential

Dr. Kristin Tugman has more than 20 years’ experience as a health and productivity consultant. Her work is founded on a specific cognitive behavioral model to help individuals overcome psychological barriers and return to productivity. In addition, she’s the author of several publications on the psychological aspects of disability. A certified rehabilitation counselor and licensed professional counselor, Dr. Tugman earned a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from Georgia State University and a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from Capella University. Dr. Tugman leads a team focused on identifying disability trends that impact Prudential customers and making actionable recommendations to help maximize productivity and minimize absence.


MS, LCMHC, CCM Vice President, Disability Claims, Prudential

Gail Ballin is a clinical leader with proven success in all areas of operations. She is solution-focused with solid ability to assess business needs and identify efficiencies that result in better workflows, cost savings, and an improved client and employee experience. She has a master’s degree in counseling from Nova Southeastern University and is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience as a clinician. She spent close to 20 years in the disability and absence industry before joining Prudential in 2019. Gail leads a team of professional resources with clinical, medical, behavioral health, and vocational rehabilitation expertise. Her teams focus on assessing wellness, functional capacity, and return to work.


The Prudential Insurance Company of America (Prudential)

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