New Orleanians have celebrated Mardi Gras since the early 1800s. The holiday starts in January and continues until the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras masks are made with a variety of materials including cardboard, feathers, plastic, and porcelain. A Mardi Gras tradition requires revelers to wear masks to hide their identity when taking part in parades or attending parties.
The Coronavirus introduced a new tradition of masking in April 2020 when the CDC recommended wearing masks to avoid infecting others and to protect wearers. Attitudes and regulations about mask-wearing continue to evolve as the Covid-19 Pandemic winds down and offices reopen. Following are masking considerations and resources to help law firms with their reopening plans.
Accommodation. Consider allowing lawyers and staff to continue working at home if they are uncomfortable with masking, the firm’s masking policy, or the masking practices of co-workers. Conduct virtual conferences when requested by clients who are unable or unwilling to visit your office.
Alternatives. Masking alternatives include an honor system that assumes those without masks have been vaccinated, a vetting procedure that requires proof of vaccination, and a mandate proclamation that mask-wearing is required for unvaccinated staff.
Communication. Clearly communicate to lawyers and staff whether they are expected or encouraged to wear masks. Use email, firm meetings, and signs to reinforce your masking message. Ask managing lawyers and supervisory staff to lead by example.
Incentives. If the firm makes masking voluntary, encourage mask-wearing with signs and stickers. Make masks available at entrances and consider personalizing them with the name of the wearer or embellishing them with your firm logo or monogram.
Penalties. Consider imposing penalties if the firm adopts a mask mandate. Send unmasked workers home with a warning and fire repeat offenders.
Policy. Some firms may dispense with mask mandates for those who are vaccinated, but most will encourage everyone to wear a mask in the office. Adopt a written policy on masking so that workers know what is expected of them. Keep the policy updated for evolving requirements and communicate changes to lawyers and staff. Make masking part of a broader policy covering safety in the workplace.
Supplies. In addition to masks, purchase barriers, disinfectants, sanitizers, signs, thermometers, and other safety supplies to use around the office.
Regulation. Make a firm member responsible for monitoring legal developments and guiding the firm’s compliance. Regularly check the CDC and OSHA websites for guidance.
Vaccination – Although some firms have mandated vaccines, many have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Promote well-being in the office by encouraging vaccinations regardless of whether masks are required.
Resources. For inspiration, read about the origins of protective masks and view an entertaining video about the benefits of mask-wearing. Read articles about masking, including attitudes, benefits, guidelines, mandates, policies, practices, and procedures. Also see articles about making offices safer, reopening procedures, and requiring proof of vaccination. Visit websites like the ABA’s Covid-19 Resources for Bar Leaders, CDC’s Covid-19 Guidelines for Offices and OSHA’s Guidance on Covid-19 in the Workplace. Use a reopening checklist and consult sample policies on voluntary and mandatory use of masks.