Virginia First to Adopt COVID-19 Workplace Safety Mandate

July 17, 2020

Virginia became the first state to adopt an emergency COVID-19 workplace standard, with Gov. Ralph Northam (D) noting it comes “in the absence of federal guidelines.”

Sanitation protocols, PPE, and social distancing:  The state’s emergency COVID-19 workplace safety standard—which is still being finalized—mandates that employers provide workers with PPE and creates benchmarks for workplace sanitation protocols that businesses must meet.  Social distancing must also be strictly enforced, and businesses will be required to adopt infectious disease response plans. 

Where a worker tests positive for the virus, a business must inform all of its employees within 24 hours and prohibit any workers who have had contact with the infected employee from returning to work, either for 10 days, or until they test negative for the virus twice in a row. 

The workplace safety standard will remain in place for six months.  The governor’s office further noted that it is possible that it will eventually be made permanent.  The text of the rule is expected to become public and take effect around the end of July. 

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the CDC officially affirmed that wearing masks prevents COVID-19 spread.  In a published editorial, the CDC asserted that “cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities.”  The announcement comes as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has banned Georgia cities and counties from mandating masks. 

Outlook:  It is likely that other states will follow Virginia’s lead in adopting workplace safety mandates.  Such an emergency standard remains unlikely on a federal level, however, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has instead favored issuing non-binding, industry-specific workplace safety guidance material, which Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia has said is sufficient to safeguard workers’ health.