Virginia Adopts COVID-19-Related Workplace Safety Mandate

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Employers in Virginia must take certain steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace or face penalties under an emergency temporary standard that Virginia lawmakers adopted on July 15.

Gov. Ralph Northam said the move makes Virginia the first state in the nation to adopt enforceable workplace safety standards related to COVID-19. "Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living—especially not during a pandemic," he tweeted.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has said, "Eliminating hazards from COVID-19 remains a top priority for OSHA." The agency has released a number of guidelines for employers but has not issued emergency temporary standards.

We've rounded up resources and articles from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets on the news.

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Specific Measures

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board voted 9-2 to adopt the standard, requiring businesses to implement specific safety measures to help prevent workers from contracting the virus. Required actions include prohibiting workers who are suspected of having the coronavirus from reporting to work; notifying workers within 24 hours of possible exposure to an infected co-worker; promoting physical distancing, sanitation and handwashing; and providing protective equipment. Employers that violate the standard could face steep monetary penalties. Some business groups said the standards will be costly for employers and are unnecessary because federal OSHA has already issued guidelines. Some worker advocates, however, said states need to enact enforceable standards since OSHA declined to issue an emergency temporary standard. 

(The Washington Post)

OSHA Emphasizes Existing Standards

Federal OSHA has said that its regular workplace safety standards will sufficiently protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has provided industry-specific best practices for preventing and controlling the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace, but its guidelines are not mandatory and may conflict with recommendations from state and local agencies. A labor union sued OSHA in an attempt to force the agency to issue a COVID-19-related emergency temporary standard, but a federal appeals court said OSHA has the authority to determine whether "employees are exposed to grave danger" from a new hazard in the workplace and whether an emergency temporary standard is "necessary to protect them from that danger."

(The National Law Review)

OSHA Guidance Clarifies Return-to-Work Expectations

OSHA has issued guidance for reopening businesses that recommends each establishment conduct a hazard assessment for all jobs. The guidance clarifies OSHA's positions on temperature checks, coronavirus testing and face masks. Regardless of the types of infection prevention and control measures employers adopt, OSHA said, employers should consider ways to communicate those measures to workers, including through training and providing a point of contact for any worker questions or concerns. In addition, employers should continue to emphasize social distancing; workplace flexibilities such as telework; and basic hygiene, including handwashing and disinfection of surfaces.

(SHRM Online)

COVID-19 Safety Plans Can Reduce Return-to-Workplace Fears

Employers are taking steps to make their workplaces safe from COVID-19, but many aren't pulling these actions together in a comprehensive plan. That's a missed opportunity, as such plans can reduce workers' fears about returning to worksites and defend employers from penalties. Moreover, the plans are required in some places, such as New York and Puerto Rico.

(SHRM Online)

CDC Guidance Reiterates Importance of Cloth Face Masks

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in some states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reiterated the importance of wearing cloth face masks to contain the virus, noting that doing so is most likely to be effective when masks are "widely used by people in public settings." In an update posted June 28, the CDC explained more forcefully than in the past that its face-covering recommendations are based on science and supported by emerging studies.

(SHRM Online)

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