Heading Back to the Office? What You Need to Know About Returning to Work in DC

by Isabel Dorfman on July 28, 2021 in Career Advice


When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their public health recommendations in May, employees heading back to offices had questions. According to the revised CDC guidance, fully vaccinated individuals were no longer required to wear a mask or physically distance themselves in most settings. Then the Delta variant began to spread, and CDC guidelines were updated again to recommend that even those who are fully vaccinated wear a mask indoors. So, what’s the latest? And what does the guidance mean if you’re returning to the office?

We’re answering your questions on vaccines, what to know if your office is re-opening, how to safely commute to work on public transportation, and what employers can and can’t ask you.

  1. What does the new CDC guidance really mean?

Let’s start with the basics. The CDC’s recommendations inform the public what behaviors the CDC believes are safe based on their information and their expertise with contagious and infectious diseases. However, the new guidelines are not legally binding and any state or local mask laws still in place must be followed. For the DC area, this means complying with the Mayor’s Order regarding mask wearing. As of late May, the mask order no longer applies to fully vaccinated people. But those who remain unvaccinated will still be required to mask up, and all residents, vaccinated and unvaccinated, must wear masks on public transit, in schools, medical offices, and hospitals.

The Mayor’s order also allows employers to establish rules for mask wearing at an office or facility that are more stringent than the rules established by the Mayor. This means that a business or workplace can require everyone to wear a mask, regardless of vaccine status.

So, where do you still need to wear a mask around DC? This helpful guide breaks it all down for you.

  1. Can my employer ask if I have been vaccinated? Can they require me to be vaccinated in order to return to the office?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, yes, employers may ask about your vaccination status. This question is not likely to elicit information about a disability and is therefore not a prohibited medical inquiry. Similarly, your employer can also require proof that you received the vaccine. However, if they request this information, they are required to maintain your confidentiality and control access to any information regarding your vaccination status. Finally, employers can require all employees working from a physical office space to be vaccinated, but they must provide reasonable accommodations for those who are prevented from receiving the vaccine due to valid reasons under Title VII and the ADA.

  1. I have concerns about the safety of my workplace and my potential for exposure to COVID-19. Can my employer force me to return to the office? What can I do if I believe my workplace is unsafe?

Generally, yes, your employer can require that you come into work. That being said, all employees are entitled to a safe workplace under federal law, and OHSA has provided recommendations for employers and employees to prevent COVID exposure and infection.

If you believe you are being exposed to COVID-19 or your employer is not taking appropriate steps to protect you, start by talking to a supervisor or manager and sharing your concerns. If the issues you raised are not properly addressed and you’re still concerned for the safety of yourself and those around you, you have the right to file a complaint. You also have the right to file a whistleblower protection complaint if you suffer retaliation because you voiced concerns about workplace safety.

Still worried about returning to work in the office? Talk to your manager and find out what other work options might be available to you. Can your position remain remote or would a hybrid role with only a few days in the office per week ease your concerns? If you’re still concerned about your safety in the office, it might be time to look for new job opportunities.

  1. I want to continue working remotely. Is my employer required to let me work remotely as long as the pandemic continues?

Unfortunately, no. Assuming you don’t need to work remotely as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, employers are not required to allow telework. If you believe you have grounds for a reasonable accommodation (like a medical condition that interferes with your ability to work in the office), you must make a request to your employer.

  1. I have to commute to work on public transportation. Is public transportation in DC safe? What is currently open?

DC’s public transportation is overwhelmingly safe and has been rigorously cleaned and maintained throughout the pandemic. Masks are still required on all public transportation in DC, regardless of vaccination status, and many bus and metro lines still require social distancing, so capacity may be limited. Both the DC Metrorail and Metrobus are running every day, although bus operators may bypass stops if the bus cannot safely accommodate additional passengers and maintain social distancing. The Metrobus also recently extended its late-night service, which benefits employees who need to head to or return from work at night.

You can explore all your DC public transportation options and routes for getting to and from work using the Metro’s trip planner feature.

Still have questions? Searching for new employment opportunities in the DC area? Contact 1 is here for you. Reach out today!


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