On January 13, 2021, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board (VSHCB) approved a measure implementing permanent workplace safety measures in response to COVID-19. Previously in May 2020, Virginia became the first state to issue temporary COVID-19 workplace safety standards when Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order requiring most private employers provide personal protective equipment to their employees, ensure social distancing in the workplace, and sanitize workstations, among other measures. For more information on Virginia's emergency workplace safety rules, please see FordHarrison's July 17 and July 29, 2020 Legal Alerts.
The permanent rule, expected to take effect following Governor Northam's review, primarily mirrors the temporary standards which are set to expire on January 26, 2021. The permanent rule continues to classify jobs in categories of high, medium, and low exposure risk and requires employers to continue workplace infection programs for COVID-19 screening and self-assessment. Employers with workers in high-risk jobs, such as hospital nurses, must also continue to meet stricter requirements, including mandates for ventilation systems. New to the permanent rule, prison guards are now classified as holding high exposure risk jobs.
Virginia's permanent COVID-19 safety measures are likely in response to growing concern that COVID-19 outbreaks may persist should workers choose not to be vaccinated. Previously, employer representatives submitted input to the VSHCB requesting a sunset provision terminating COVID-19 safety standards upon the conclusion of Virginia's COVID-19 state of emergency. The permanent workplace safety measures awaiting Governor Northam's approval do not include such a sunset provision.
As COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, employers are faced with many questions about how to handle vaccine-related issues in the workplace. Virginia employers should be mindful to consult Virginia's permanent COVID-19 safety measures in addition to the multiple changes to Virginia's employment laws enacted as of July 1, 2020. See our May 11, 2020 Legal Alert Virginia General Assembly Makes Pro-Employee Changes to State Laws.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.