- Virginia will require all employers in the commonwealth to take a set of workplace safety measures as defined by a set of emergency temporary standards that will remain in effect for six months, the office of Gov. Ralph Northam announced July 15.
- The standards require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible; provide "frequent access" to hand-washing or hand sanitizer; and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. Employers must notify within 24 hours all employees if a co-worker tests positive for the novel coronavirus, and employees who are known or suspected to have the disease cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative COVID-19 tests.
- Northam's office called the standards "first-in-the-nation safety rules" that "will protect Virginia workers by mandating appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth." The requirements will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry's website.
Virginia's emergency safety standards are representative of the various state and local measures impacting employer compliance efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Washington state, for example, Gov. Jay Inslee recently extended a proclamation providing protections to workers who fall under certain "high-risk categories," as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And a July 15 executive order by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf requires businesses in the state to conduct operations remotely via telework except for cases in which this is not possible, according to the state's Department of Health.
Another example can be found in California, where state and authorities have issued reinforced and expanded existing guidance for employers during the pandemic, Sandra Rappaport, partner at Hanson Bridgett, told HR Dive in an email. For example, California employers have been required to adopt changes to their Injury and Illness Prevention Plans as they plan and respond to COVID-19, Rappaport said.
Northam's announcement has been viewed as a victory for workers in the state, including those employed at poultry processing plants on the state's Eastern Shore, according to a report from local public radio station WAMU. The outlet said that more than 260 coronavirus cases had been linked to poultry plants in the region.
The state's requirements also largely line up with those recommended by the CDC itself, per an agency guidance released in May. CDC recommended that employers meet several requirements prior to reopening, including encouraging social distancing; implementing cleaning, ventilation and disinfection procedures; and promoting hygiene practices like handwashing and wearing a cloth face covering. Employers should also develop and implement procedures to check employees' signs and symptoms daily, among other safeguards, the agency said.
But employers will also need to be fluid with their reopening plans and procedures, one management-side attorney told HR Dive recently. The comment came following CDC's announcement that it revised its guidance for determining when non-hospitalized individuals with COVID-19 may end home isolation.