On January 13, 2021, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board approved a Permanent Standard on COVID-19 that will require ALL VIRGINIA EMPLOYERS to implement workplace policies and procedures to protect their employees and customers.
This standard is meant to replace and supersede the Temporary Standard enacted last summer. The final draft of the Permanent Standard has been sent to Governor Ralph Northam for final approval. If the governor approves the standard as is, it will be enacted immediately; it is expected that Governor Northam will make a final decision by January 26, 2021. Despite this and the Temporary Standard expiring on January 26, employers will have a grace period of 60 days to implement some of the requirements, like the training requirements, for example.
Just like the Temporary Standard, the Permanent Standard will apply to all Virginia employers. The Permanent Standard is largely the same as the Temporary Standard in requiring things such as:
- Grouping jobs into categories based on exposure risk;
- Developing and implementing policies and protocols for employees with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and for work-place safety regarding viral diseases;
- Providing notice to employees and authorities of new workplace cases;
- Creating workplace infection protection programs for employees who are classified in higher risk categories, and;
- Prohibiting discrimination or retaliation against employees who raise reasonable concerns workplace concerns related to COVID-19.
However, the new Permanent Standard has some key differences and changes such as:
- Scaling back reporting requirements to authorities from any cases to two or more cases within a 14-day period;
- Defining “close contact” as within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more;
- Changing return-to-work plans to only allow employers to use the “time-based” method;
- Scaling back the “time-based” method to three days—with only one day without symptoms—instead of the previous ten days, and;
- Allowing for more flexibility and alternative work-place controls given the shortages of personal protective equipment.
The new Permanent Standard does not address COVID-19 vaccination roll-outs, requirements, or timelines. The focus of the Permanent Standard is to prioritize work-place safety and minimize spread in the workplace.
Governor Northam is expected to announce his decision any day, so the time to act for all Virginia employers is now. All Virginia employers should review and revise their existing policies and procedures regarding COVID-19, and if necessary, implement policies to ensure compliance with the Permanent Standard. Virginia employers that fail to comply with the Permanent Standard are subject to steep fines—up to nearly $130,000 for some violations.
General Counsel, P.C. and Business Compliance, LLC created Covid Compliance Plans allowing Virginia employers to easily implement Covid polices and procedures to protect their workplaces and comply with the Emergency Standard. When finalized, we will make available similar policies to comply with the Permanent Standard.