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Face Masks in the Local Government Workplace


May 26, 2021  by  Steve Gross
Category:  Operating Policies COVID-19

Face Masks in the Local Government Workplace

Editor’s note: This post was written in May 2021 when the state was relaxing its facial covering requirements. For the latest information on facial covering requirements, see our blog post Face Coverings and Vaccine Requirements: Where Things Stand as of August 23, 2021.


As the science of how COVID-19 spreads is better understood, and Washingtonians continue to get vaccinated, the state has updated several documents containing requirements and guidance on wearing facial coverings in the workplace.

The Takeaway

Federal and state agencies have published several documents related to wearing facial coverings. Some are “guidance” and may not be mandatory. Other are “orders” and are mandatory. You should review each one carefully with your attorney and risk carrier to determine your agency’s specific policies. We’ll discuss some of them in detail, but when you put them all together, the bottom line is:

  • All persons in healthcare settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, schools, and public transportation must wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
  • For all other local government employees, the face mask guidance for unvaccinated employees and visitors has not changed. However, fully vaccinated people (those who are two weeks past the date of their final vaccination) are no longer required to wear a mask if they provide proof of vaccination as discussed later in this blog.
  • If your county public health officer or other local health authority has imposed a stricter mask requirement than the state, you should adhere to the local requirements.
  • Any employer may impose its own stricter mask requirements, regardless of the state or local mandates, and no local authority may prevent an employer from doing so or checking vaccination status.
  • Local agencies can enforce masking requirements for visitors, and public transportation passengers are still required to wear masks. Local agencies must continue to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide reasonable accommodations to employees or visitors who say they are unable to wear a facial covering, and the individual is not required to explain their condition. If the visitor declines to provide information or says that they refuse to wear a face covering (not exempt under the face covering order and proclamation but unwilling to wear a face covering), the agency must deny the customer entry/service (unless there are worker safety concerns)

Finally, local agencies can verify vaccination status. For employees, agencies can ask to see a copy of a vaccination record, have a person sign a form saying they are vaccinated, or record their employees’ vaccination status in a logbook (including employee name and method of confirming their vaccination status). Employers are not required to maintain records demonstrating the underlying proof of the employees’ vaccination status but must provide the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) access to the logbook if requested during an investigation.' For employees, make sure your process complies with the requirements on pages 13-14 of DOSH Directive 1.70.

For visitors to your customer service areas, agencies should follow the guidance for Professional Services.  That guidance allows agencies to:

  1. Implement an honor system;
  2. Engage with visitors to ask about vaccination status;
  3. Require proof of vaccination status; or
  4. Continue mandating the use of face coverings.

This verification process only applies to your customer service areas. For public meetings, agencies are required to comply with the guidance for Miscellaneous Venues, which requires vaccination record verified by a medical professional. See our blog post Face Masks and In-Person Meetings for more details.

If the customer says they are fully vaccinated and therefore exempt under the proclamation, the agency may allow the customer to enter without further inquiry. If the customer states they are not fully vaccinated but are otherwise exempt under the proclamation, the agency may offer a reasonable accommodation (an alternative way to receive service, if feasible). If the customer refuses the reasonable accommodation, the agency must deny the person entry. If the customer declines to provide information or says that they refuse to wear a face covering  (not exempt under the face covering order and proclamation but unwilling to wear a face covering), the agency must deny the customer entry/service (unless there are worker safety concerns).

However, be aware of medical privacy laws; only ask for the minimum information you need (vaccinated or not — or have an exemption) to decide whether to provide services in person or by some other method. Don’t keep a copy of a medical record if you don’t have a good business reason to do so — just have staff ask to see the document and document that you’ve seen it.

Also, note that there is new state legislation (SSB 5254, which took effect on April 26) which says that during a declared public health emergency, employers must allow employees to wear a mask or other protective equipment if the employee chooses to (with limited exceptions related to workplace safety and operations). In other words, if a fully vaccinated employee wants to continue voluntarily wearing a face mask for the duration of the declared emergency, even if it is no longer required by the state or the employer, the employer generally must let them.

Current guidance and requirements

The following is a collection of current federal and state-based guidance:

Remember that your local health department or board still has the authority to issue requirements that are more restrictive than those of the state unless state guidance specifically prohibits supplemental regulation. (For example, King County and Jefferson County still require or strongly recommend that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors).

The Details

Many of the guidance and regulatory documents provide the same basic direction, and many of them cross-reference other documents. We’ll hit some of the high points here, but if you need specific detail you will have to read each document carefully.

CDC guidance

If you are fully vaccinated (it has been at least two weeks since you received your final vaccine shot), the CDC says that you do not need to wear a facial covering, but it also has several exceptions. The CDC still recommends that people wear a facial covering if:

  • required by local law or a local business;
  • traveling on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations; and/or
  • required to do so, such as in a healthcare setting.

Proclamation 20-25.13

Fully vaccinated workers do not have to wear face masks on the jobsite (except for "CDC exempted locations") if the employee provides proof of vaccination or a signed attestation form to their employer. However, the proclamation allows businesses or local authorities to impose their own stricter face mask requirements, and local authorities may not prohibit businesses or other local authorities from imposing their own face mask requirements or requiring proof of vaccination.

We have started getting requests for sample employee vaccination attestation forms. If your agency has created such a form and you are willing to share it, please send a copy to our librarian Gabrielle Nicas at gnicas@mrsc.org.

Order No. 20-03.2

The order still requires people to wear a face covering “when they are in a place where people from outside their household are present or in a place that is generally accessible to people from outside their household.” However, the exceptions have been updated so that people are not required to wear a face covering:

  • Outdoors, if they can maintain six-foot separation from people outside their household.
  • At small, private gatherings where anyone attending is either fully vaccinated or is unvaccinated but living in a single household (where no one is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19).
  • While eating or drinking, subject to specific limits in the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan. (The COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Businesses and Workers webpage is a great resource for venues but should be checked frequently, as individual event and venue requirements may have been updated).

The order also provides for blanket exemptions from wearing a face covering for:

  • People fully vaccinated, except when they are in health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, or schools.
  • Children younger than five years old.
  • People with a medical condition or other condition that prevents wearing a face covering.

L&I guidance

L&I added a Key COVID-19 Updates for Fully Vaccinated Workers fact sheet to its website.

This updates the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Common Questions Regarding Worker Face Covering and Mask Requirements page (January 26, 2021). It provides general information as well as links to the DOL’s more detailed guidance pages: Which Mask for Which Task? (F414-168-000) and Washington Coronavirus Hazard Considerations for Employers (except COVID-19 care in hospitals & clinics).

Before ending masking and social distancing requirements, employers must confirm whether workers are fully vaccinated by having the worker sign a document attesting to their status or provide proof of vaccination. L&I provides several options for employers to verify vaccination status, including (but not necessarily limited to):

  • Creating a log of workers who have verified they’ve been vaccinated and the date of the verification (not the date of vaccination),
  • Checking vaccination status each day as workers enter the jobsite, or
  • Marking a worker’s badge or credential to show that they are vaccinated.

DOSH Directive 1.70 provides more details on acceptable verification of vaccination status (see the highlighted section).

Updating Your Agency’s Reopening Plan

As agencies continue to update their return to work policies, the Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery provides some helpful guidance on when employees should wear masks and other personal protective equipment. However, this document is typically updated only once per month (latest update was May 17, and it has not yet been updated to address the new requirements for vaccinated versus unvaccinated people). So, check back frequently for the most current guidance, but be aware that the next update might not be until June 15.

Compliance and Enforcement

MRSC believes that local agencies may require employees to comply with directives to wear facial coverings just as the agency can require employees to wear other protective gear.

As for customers and other public visitors to your agency’s facilities, we believe that you have the statutory authority to require them to wear a face covering if they want to conduct business in person. The governor's office issued an Overview of COVID-19 Statewide Face Covering Requirements, including best practices for business owners to enforce the rules in the event a customer does not wear a mask. As of May 24, 2021, this document has not been updated to address vaccinated versus unvaccinated people, so, check back frequently for the most current guidance.

Local agencies must continue to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act when considering restrictions or conditions of access to public buildings and transit facilities. Agencies should think about how they can provide reasonable accommodations if necessary. If someone is unable to wear a face covering, they do not need a vaccination card nor do they have to explain their condition to anyone. Agencies should provide reasonable alternatives to in-person contact if a visitor chooses not to wear a facial covering.

State guidance can be found on the Washington State Coronavirus Response webpage. MRSC will continue to update our COVID-19 Resources for Local Governments webpage as we get additional direction from the state.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross joined MRSC as a Legal Consultant in January 2020.

Steve has worked in municipal law and government for over 20 years as an Assistant City Attorney for Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma, and Auburn, and as the City Attorney for Port Townsend and Auburn. He also has been a legal policy advisor for the Pierce County Council and has worked in contract administration.

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