On July 15, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) Safety and Health Codes Board voted 9-2 to approve the nation’s first emergency workplace regulation related to COVID-19.
The new regulation was issued in response to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s directive in May to address workplace safety issues in Virginia given the lack of response from the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA.)
While the final text of the regulation has yet to be issued, the regulation will require Virginia employers to implement various policies and procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Virginia has established the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) to oversee workplace and safety compliance. While VOSH’s regulations mostly follow OSHA standards, VOSH can establish additional workplace safety standards beyond OSHA’s requirements.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., many state officials and employee advocacy groups have been waiting for OSHA to take an active role in protecting workers from the spread of the virus. While OSHA issued guidance for employers on safety standards related to COVID-19, the guidance is non-binding. Multiple parties, from lawmakers to workers’ advocate organizations, have attempted to get OSHA to issue an emergency standard related to COVID-19, but OSHA has thus far declined to do so.
In May, Northam issued an executive order calling for increased workplace safety standards for COVID-19, given the lack of federal guidelines.
Northam is not alone in his frustration. Oregon OSHA, for example, is expected to issue a similar regulation shortly, following that state’s Gov. Kate Brown issuing numerous executive orders, including the expansion of mandatory face coverings, intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) continues to urge OSHA to create an emergency workplace standard for COVID-19, and it is currently appealing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the AFLCIO’s request for an order mandating OSHA create such a standard.
Effective Date and Coverage
The new regulation will become effective once it has been published in a Richmond, VA, general circulation newspaper, which is expected to happen during the week of July 27.