As previously reported in EmployNews, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has to date declined to adopt mandatory regulations governing COVID-19 prevention efforts by employers. Last week, Virginia became the first state to adopt its own safety standard requiring certain workplace measures.
The emergency rule issued by Governor Ralph Northam mandates use of masks for employees who deal with the public. It also incorporates use of social distancing, surface cleaning, and handwashing facilities. Employers must notify employees within 24 hours if a co-worker tests positive for COVID-19. If an employee tests positive, they cannot return to the workplace for 10 days or until they have returned two negative tests for the virus. Employer found to have violated the rules can be fined up to $13,000 for each deficiency or $130,000 for each willful or repeat violation.
In the absence of a federal rule governing COVID-19 prevention efforts, other states are likely to follow Virginia’s lead in issuing their own safety standards. Employers with operations in multiple states may need to adopt different prevention methods based on those local requirements. Companies in states that have not adopted their own standards can still be cited under OSHA’s “General Duty Clause,” but the legal requirements for issuing and defending such citations are higher for the agency.