Virginia in mid-July adopted new emergency workplace safety standards in response to the coronavirus. Gov. Ralph Northam touted the measure as the nation’s first in the wake of COVID-19.
The mandates cover a variety of workplace-related safety issues, including:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Sanitizing workspaces
- Social distancing
- Preparedness and response plans
“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Northam said in a statement. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements. Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”
Applying to all businesses in Virginia, the emergency standards — which went into effect July 27 — will be in place for six months and could become permanent through legislative action.
More specifically, the employers must have employees in customer-facing jobs wear masks. When social distancing is not feasible, businesses must provide access to hand sanitizer or have employees wash their hands frequently. High-contact surfaces are to be cleaned regularly.
Meanwhile, should an employee test positive for COVID-19, all other workers must be notified within 24 hours. And anyone who has contracted the coronavirus, or is suspected to be positive, can’t go back to work for 10 days (or until they test negative in twice consecutively).
Department of Labor and Industry Guidance
In conjunction with the new safety standards, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry has issued a 47-page document for employers. It outlines a number of the initiative’s specifics, including:
- Dates for training requirements (Aug. 26 and Sept. 25)
- Risk levels for specific industries
- Postings about occupancy limits
- Closing or limiting access to break rooms
“Keeping Virginia’s economy moving forward has never been more important, and keeping our workers safe is critical to sustained economic recovery,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball said in a release. “COVID-19 is unfortunately going to continue impacting our everyday lives, and these regulations will provide for safer, more predictable workplaces for Virginians.”
Virginia — which is among the states requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces — is currently in Phase 3 of its reopening plan.
Among the businesses that can reopen at limited capacity are:
- Farmers markets
- Non-essential retail
- Personal care and grooming services
- Performing arts venues and movie theaters
- Amusement parks
- Social clubs
The state has provided best practices for employers under Phase 3 of Virginia’s reopening plan.
Most employers are diligent about maintaining a healthy working environment. But Virginia has taken the extra step of mandating certain practices.
As the past few months have demonstrated, governments are moving quickly on many laws and rules that pertain to employers, from new paid leave laws such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to mask mandates and the expansion of existing laws to cover the coronavirus.
The fluid and fast-paced nature of current employment laws remains a challenge as the nation continues to navigate the pandemic.