Employers Get Ready: New Virginia Emergency Workplace Standards to Fight COVID-19

On Wednesday, July 15th, Governor Northam announced a new Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) for Infectious Disease Prevention. This ETS would be put in effect later in July to stem the spread of COVID-19. See §16 VAC 25-220. These emergency workplace standards will take effect immediately upon publication in a Richmond City newspaper, a publication anticipated during the week of July 27, 2020. These new standards will require all Virginia “covered” employers to mandate that their employees social distance, use face coverings and other personal protective equipment. When the nature of the work does not allow for social distancing, it is expected that the standards will require increased access to hand washing and regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces.  Under the new standards, when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, other employees must be notified within 24 hours. Those employees known to be positive or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 may not return to the workplace for at least 10 days or until they test negative twice consecutively. Employers will need to prepare infectious disease preparedness and response plans and complete COVID-19 related training requirements. These regulations are expected to expire either within six months of their effective date, or when the Governor’s State of Emergency expires, whichever occurs first. Employers who follow both mandatory and non-mandatory guidance found in CDC publications will be considered compliant with the ETS. “Covered” employers include both public and private employers in Virginia. Private businesses, colleges and universities, public school divisions, and private schools all must comply with the new emergency workplace standards. The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will post the complete standards, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance later this month on their website at doli.virginia.gov. Also, workers who feel unsafe will be able to file formal complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Employers will need to be careful not to retaliate against employees who file workplace safety complaints.   Stay tuned for updates and don’t hesitate to contact the Employment Law Team at Sands Anderson if you need assistance complying with these new Virginia guidelines.