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Legal Insider: Virginia drops Covid workplace rules

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Virginia, the first state to enact COVID-19 workplace rules in July of 2020, has now become the first state to end them.

The action was taken following a vote on March 21, 2022, by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI) Safety and Health Codes Board (Safety Board). Under the previous standards, Virginia employers had a number of requirements with respect to COVID-19, including indoor masking in higher-risk areas and reporting COVID-19 outbreaks to the Virginia Department of Health. These standards have been rescinded.

Workplace safety is governed by both the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and state and local rules. States, like Virginia, with workplace safety agencies are required to have rules that are at least as effective as those set by OSHA.

OSHA originally attempted to enact rules regarding COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 testing, but the effort was dropped after being blocked by the Supreme Court. As a result, employers now remain subject to various state and local regulations with respect to COVID-19 issues.

New Guidance for Employers

While the prior rules are ending, new guidance is being finalized. Virginia employers still remain subject to workplace safety rules by DOLI, Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Programs (VOSH). VOSH has just proposed draft guidance for general health and safety rules concerning COVID-19 in the workplace.

The draft guidance, 5 pages in length, provides expectations for Virginia employers for handling COVID-19 employment issues, including, but not limited to:

  1. Encouraging employees with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home
  2. Assisting employees seeking to get vaccinated or in receiving booster shots
  3. Requiring employees infected with COVID-19 to stay home
  4. Providing employees masks or coverings as appropriate

There are many other items in the draft guidance, that employers and employees should review. The draft rules are still under review and the public may comment beginning March 28, 2022, until April 27, 2022.  It is likely that the draft rules will mostly remain the same as the final rules eventually issued.

Employers generally have the legal right to adopt safety and health workplace rules for employees that are more stringent than the guidance per the Code of Virginia.

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