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Newsday experts: Masking policies in workplaces, businesses still fluid

Mask wearing is no longer mandatory, but vaccinations

Mask wearing is no longer mandatory, but vaccinations aren’t universal. Should we still be wearing them when out and about? Experts discuss.

To mask or not to mask?

That is the question.

Experts on the latest NewsdayLive webinar Thursday said laws remain unclear on whether employers can sanction, ban or restrict employees based on if they've been vaccinated. But there do appear to be situations where wearing a mask remains required or may be the easiest or best course of action .

"Any time we're congregating around folks, it's safer to have a mask on than a mask off," Dr. Lawrence Ferber, director of Behaviorial Health & Central Intake Services for Catholic Health Services on Long Island, said.

Ferber and Gerald C. Waters, Jr., partner at the labor and employement practice group Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP, said no one should be shamed or bullied into wearing a mask in public spaces, though both agreed there are times when, even if you've been vaccinated, you might have to.

The two experts were speaking on the webinar "Vaccine Etiquette: To Mask or Not to Mask?" and agreed that the landscape remains fluid on many requirements.

Waters said that while in most cases there are no legal grounds to mandate a person be vaccinated, and that there are religious and medical reasons why someone might choose not to, businesses, work places and even some public spaces likely can still require it.

In some cases, Waters said, barring a health, religious or other protected circumstance or exemption, employees might even be subject to legal action, suspension or dismissal, based on refusal to follow workplace masking guidelines.

"There are places in the nation where people are challenging mandatory vaccination programs," Waters said.

But, he said, there may be scenarios in which employers and establishments can set ground rules in an effort to "make the workplace as safe as possible."

Which may include mask policies.

The experts acknowledged some people have reported feeling pressured, even bullied, if they choose not to wear a mask.

"Peer pressure is tremendous," Ferber said. "Though, tremendous is not a big enough word . . . However, science does tell us masking will help mitigate against getting the virus . . . Trust me, you don't want to get it."

Experts said it still might make sense to protect yourself by continuing to mask, distance and follow other recommended health protocols, like frequent hand-washing or using a sanitizer — if just for your own mental health and well-being.

At least, they said, until we're all certain the worst is in fact over and there's no second wave of coronavirus. "I think you will at some point not have to wear a mask," Ferber said. But, he said: "If the worst thing that comes out of this is that we have to wear masks here and there, that's not so bad."

So whether to wear a mask, even if you've been vaccinated, or to suffer the slings and arrows -- and, unkind stares and comments of bystanders and strangers? Shakespeare aside, the bottom line isn't to be or not to be, but rather as one viewer participating in the webinar, Garry Hall of Wantagh, said: "It can't hurt, so why not wear it?"

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