Virginia adopts first-in-nation COVID-19 workplace safety standards

Published 7:47 pm Thursday, July 16, 2020

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All Virginia employers must mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions per new rules the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry adopted on Wednesday.

When social distancing is not possible, employers must provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. The new standards also require all employees to be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19, and prohibit those who test positive from returning to work for 10 days unless they receive two consecutive negative test results.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the new rules that afternoon, making Virginia the first state in the nation to adopt such workplace standards for COVID-19.

These first-in-the-nation safety rules 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,” said Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s press secretary, in a press release issued that same day. “The actions come in the absence of federal guidelines.”

Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Northam said. “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.”

The rules come as a result of a vote by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board, which approved these emergency temporary standards after Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in May. These temporary emergency standards will remain in effect for six months and can be made permanent through a process defined in state law.

As a top state for workforce development, it should be no surprise that Virginia is also the first in the nation to establish such a robust set of emergency workplace safety regulations,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Our workers are our greatest asset, and I am confident that these temporary standards will provide Virginians with the peace of mind they need to return to work and fuel the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.”

Keeping Virginia’s economy moving forward has never been more important, and keeping our workers safe is critical to sustained economic recovery,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “COVID-19 is unfortunately going to continue impacting our everyday lives, and these regulations will provide for safer, more predictable workplaces for Virginians.”

The Commonwealth’s new emergency workplace safety standards are a powerful tool in our toolbox for keeping Virginia workers safe and protected throughout this pandemic,” said C. Ray Davenport, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. “Many employers have already enacted these evidence-based practices, and we are committed to working collaboratively with those who have not to ensure they are in compliance with the new emergency temporary standard.”

The emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website at Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration at