Many office workers will still being required to wear masks in the office and get regularly tested. Front-line workers like store clerks and restaurant staff who were already physically going to work will have to adjust to maskless colleagues and customers — whether they like it or not.
Megan Chichester, a 48-year-old graphic artist who works at a packaging company in De Soto, Kansas, received notice that she will have to return to the office in April. She has only stopped in the office a couple times in the last two years, making the prospect of pre-pandemic office work a little strange.
“I’m excited to see people in person because I have missed them. But then on the other side, it’s also a little strange because I’m so used to not being around people that there’s a little bit of anxiety about it,” she said.
Adding to the anxiety is the fact that she has seen return-to-office dates scuttled repeatedly over the past couple years when cases surged.
“It’s kind of like you’re getting whiplash because you don’t know what month you’re really returning,” she said.
Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have retreated from some of their own restrictions as their case counts decline but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not yet ready to tell everyone to take off their masks.
Many businesses — small and large — are figuring out what’s best for them based on the attitudes of their customers and workers.
JPMorgan, which started requiring workers to return to the office in some form in early February, said that masking is now voluntary for employees who are fully vaccinated, except for those in cities or localities that still require it; unvaccinated workers will still need to wear a mask. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley announced a similar policy in their U.S. offices.
Brian Anderson, marketing manager at a supplement store outside of Chicago, said they’ve been under a state mask mandate since last August. But as soon as Illinois lifts the mandate Feb. 28, they won’t require customers to wear masks.
“Our customer base is more fitness-focused and definitely not mask wearers,” he said. Store workers can wear a mask, but it won’t be required.
By contrast, Jeff Moriarty, co-owner of Moriarty’s Gem Art in Indiana, says they’ll continue to ask customers to wear masks even though there hasn’t been a mandate in his state since 2021. His business provides masks and hand sanitizers at the entrance.
“The reason behind this is because we do have older associates working in our store, and our owners are over the age of 65,” he said. “We understand that some customers will choose not to wear masks, but we will continue to have it as a recommendation option.”
Companies that have imposed their own vaccination requirements for staff also must navigate the changing dynamics surrounding the virus.
The Supreme Court last month knocked down a federal nationwide workplace mandate but companies are allowed to maintain their own requirements and many are keeping them in place. Others, like Starbucks, have decided to eliminate their mandate in the aftermath of the high court ruling.
IBM software engineer Justin Albano said his company recently notified employees that it would be revoking badge access to workers who aren’t vaccinated or haven’t proved that they are.
“We’re not able to enter an IBM office at this time,” said Albano, who works remotely from his New Jersey home but is still expected to get the vaccine. He said some workers have successfully sought religious exemptions but “my thought process was I shouldn’t have to explain to my company my faith” to get out of a policy that’s “immoral in its foundation.”
IBM didn’t immediately return a request for comment about the status of its vaccine requirements.