Virginia Passes First-In-Nation OSHA Emergency Standard for COVID-19

Date: July 16, 2020

Workplace rules go beyond CDC guidelines

The new rules, proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam and adopted by the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board on Wednesday, July 15 over strenuous objections from NFIB Virginia and other business groups, make Virginia the first state in the country to pass comprehensive safety rules for employers.

Virginia’s Department of Labor will now enforce a mandate that in some instances exceeds guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA. The new standard covers most private employers in Virginia, as well as all state and local employees. 

The emergency standard will take effect upon publication at the end of July and is set to expire within six months or upon expiration of the Governor’s State of Emergency or the enactment of a permanent standard.

NFIB Virginia will be holding a webinar on Wednesday, July 29 with a labor attorney to provide detailed information on how small businesses get their workplaces compliant with the new emergency standard.  Be on the lookout for information on how to register.

Here is just a brief summary:

The rules require all employers to:

  • Mandate social distancing
  • Assess their workplaces for potential exposure to the virus and the hazard levels of all job tasks
  • Mandate face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions or when social distancing isn’t possible
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used areas and equipment
  • Provide easy and frequent access to both handwashing and hand sanitizer
  • Screen employees prior to entry to work
  • Notify employees within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus
  • Bar employees known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 from returning to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests

In addition to CDC and OSHA guidelines, the standard includes provisions that require employers to:

  • Provide flexible sick leave policies, telework and staggered shifts when feasible
  • Notify the Virginia Department of Health of positive COVID-19 tests
  • Notify VOSH of three or more positive COVID-19 tests within a two-week period
  • Provide COVID-19 training of all employees within 30 days (except for low-hazard places of employment)
  • Prepare infectious disease preparedness and response plans within 60 days (except for employers with 10 or less employees)
  • Post or present agency-prepared COVID-19 information to all employees

Many of the additional regulations are for jobs deemed medium, high or very high risk.

High and very high-risk jobs are defined as those in which there is a high probability an employee will come in contact with people known or suspected to be infected with the virus, such as health care workers and first responders.

Medium risk jobs are defined as those that “require more than minimal occupational contact” with other employees or the general public, such as workers in settings like restaurants, grocery and retail stores, correctional facilities, factories and plants.

The standard protects employees who raise reasonable concerns about infection control to print, online, social or other media.  It also requires building and facility owners to report positive COVID-19 tests to employer tenants.

The maximum penalty for violating the rules is set at $13,000, but “willful and repeat” violations could result in fines up to $130,000.

NFIB Virginia provided written comments opposing the emergency regulations.  You can read them HERE.  Also, State Director Nicole Riley has routinely spoken in opposition to the press, explaining that current CDC guidelines that most businesses are already following are enough. This included an op-ed in the Free Lance-Star on that topic and articles in the Washington Post, Richmond Times Dispatch and Inside NOVA.

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