Last week, Virginia’s first-in-the-nation permanent COVID-19 workplace standards for Virginia employers went into effect. These permanent COVID-19 standards are modeled after the temporary COVID-19 workplace standards, which we reported on earlier that went into effect in July 2020, but had expired on January 26, 2021. These new Virginia COVID-19 workplace standards are a potential model for an OSHA national workplace standard that require Virginia employers to assess the risk for COVID-19 exposure in certain job duties, and maintain various workplace sanitation practices, such as:
- Notify state health officials about two or more positive COVID-19 tests within a two-week period;
- Notify state safety officials about three or more positive tests within a two-week period;
- Develop a COVID-19 response and preparedness plan within 60 days and provide training to employees; and
- Distribute state-provided COVID-19 information to employees.
A key difference from the earlier temporary workplace standards is that Virginia employers no longer need to report on simply one positive COVID-19 case that occurs. Instead, under these new permanent workplace standards, Virginia employers are required to report to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) within 24 hours of the discovery of two or more of its own employees present at the place of employment within a 14-day period who tested positive for COVID-19 during that 14-day time period. This qualifies as a COVID-19 outbreak. Once this outbreak has occurred, the employer shall continue to report on every positive case to VDH until the local health department notifies the employer that the outbreak is closed. Afterwards, the employer would return to the two-positive-test threshold for any subsequent reporting to VDH. In addition, high- and medium-hazard workplaces need to comply with the training mandates and completion of a preparedness and response plan by March 26, 2021.
Virginia has created an online portal that employers can use to report employees’ COVID-19 exposures to comply with these new permanent standards.
Virginia’s new COVID-19 workplace standards coincides with actions also taken last week by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which issued stronger COVID-19 workplace guidance for employers nationally that was posted on OSHA’s official website. According to OSHA, employers adopting a COVID-19 prevention program for their employees is the “most effective” way to combat the spread of the virus. Although this newly issued OSHA guidance is not a standard or regulation that creates no new legal obligations, it does offer recommendations that employers can adopt.