Virginia board hears differing opinions on proposed changes to the state’s COVID-19 workplace rules

Virginia board hears differing opinions on proposed changes to the state’s COVID-19 workplace rules

Virginia’s rules requiring employers to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace technically still remain in place, though many businesses continue to urge a full repeal.

And Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed that businesses in compliance with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards should be considered compliant with the state rules.

Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board, which adopted the permanent workplace standards in January, is considering amending or repealing the rules.

The board held a public hearing on Thursday about proposed changes but did not take any action. Another meeting is being planned for later this month, though no date has been set.

Several major business and trade groups urged the board to eliminate or change the rules, while two worker advocacy organizations urged keeping them in place or at least ensuring that the rules remain stronger than CDC recommendations. The rules also run counter to the guidance from the CDC and Northam’s rescission of the emergency order.

“We believe that with the current situation ever changing, that the board should eliminate the standard,” said P. Dale Bennett, president and CEO of the Virginia Trucking Association, during the hearing. “At a minimum, if you do move forward with the standards, we strongly support adoption of the governor’s recommendation regarding CDC compliance and guidance.”

The rules require employers to have multiple safety policies such as mask-wearing and workplace sanitation along with employee training on COVID prevention.

Business groups have argued the rules impose “one-size-fits-all” regulations that are difficult for many businesses to enforce.

The AFL-CIO, a labor group, and the Legal Aid Justice Center, a worker advocacy group, both urged the board not to weaken the standards.

“Right now, we are at a pivotal moment in the pandemic,” said M.K. Fletcher, safety and health specialist at the AFL-CIO. “The delta variant [of COVID] is rapidly spreading across the nation, cases are spiking, hospitals are reopening dedicated COVID wards, and some employers are delaying in-person work plans.”

“The science shows it is critical to continue strong workplace mitigation measures,” Fletcher said.

Other trade organizations that urged the board to repeal or adopt rules based on CDC guidelines included the Virginia Agribusiness Council; the Virginia Poultry Federation; the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association; the National Federation of Independent Business; and the Virginia Manufacturers Association.

 

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