Virginia Enacts Nation’s First Statewide COVID-19 Safety & Health Measures: What Employers Need to Know

By Mason Freeman

Employers have been grappling with how to re-open their workplaces during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Federal OSHA has provided some guidance on what standards apply, but has not enacted any specific standards to guide employers through re-opening. The Commonwealth of Virginia has taken steps as the first state to enact its own set of COVID-19-related rules. Virginia Occupational Safety & Health (VOSH) recently announced that it will enforce a new “emergency temporary” standard for COVID-19 issues that adopts current CDC and OSHA guidance, and in some cases, actually exceeds federal guidance. The new rules apply to most private employers in addition to state and local employees. Virginia companies may face fines of up to $134,0000 per violation.  The new rules are expected to go into effect sometime on or around July 27.

Under the new rules, employers must, among other measures:

  • Enforce social distancing measures and face coverings when social distancing is not possible;
  • Assess their workplaces for potential exposure to the virus;
  • Sanitize common areas daily;
  • Provide easy and frequent access to handwashing and hand sanitizer;
  • Notify employees within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus; and
  • Bar employees known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 from returning to work for at least three days after symptoms subside, at least 10 days after they were first diagnosed or until they test negative for the virus.

Additionally, the emergency rules go beyond federal OSHA’s rules in that they prohibit employers from:

  • Discriminating against or firing an employee because that employee voluntarily provides and wears their own PPE, if such equipment is not provided by the employer, as long as that PPE does not create an increased hazard;
  • Retaliating against or firing an employee who has raised a reasonable concern about COVID-19 infection control to the employer, the employer’s agent, other employees, or a government agency, or to the public through print, online, social, or any other media.

The final text of the rules is being drafted and will be posted to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s website in the coming weeks.  A link to the currently drafted rules is available here.

Federal OSHA has issued its own guidance on COVID-19 issues, but unlike Virginia, has not issued any new binding rules. Other states are expected to follow Virginia’s lead, but none have yet announced their own standards.  For more information on Virginia’s new COVID-19 safety and health rules, join Womble Bond Dickinson’s upcoming webinar on Wednesday, July 29 at noon. Registration information can be found here.