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Board Approves Increased Coronavirus Protections for Virginia Workers

Face masks sitting on table
A variety of face coverings. (Photo: Charles Fishburne/VPM News)

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board approved an emergency temporary standard that will strengthen worker protections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Board approved the new rules in a 9 - 2 vote Wednesday, during its fourth meeting to discuss the proposal. The standard was proposedby the Department of Labor and Industries at the direction of Gov. Ralph Northam.

The standard includes an equivalency provision, which says employers should follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as long as they are the same or stricter than the state’s requirements. This provision meets one of the demands from labor advocacy groups.

“The guidelines that CDC wrote say to the meat industry that only ‘if possible,’ ‘if feasible,’ ‘if it’s ideal’ you should separate workers six feet apart,” highlighted Debbie Berkowitz, a program director at the National Employment Law Project, during a press conference Monday.

Data from the CDC shows that over 1,000 meat industry workers in Virginia have contracted COVID-19; 10 have died. 

Under Virginia’s new rules, employees who work with customers, or who are unable to stay six feet apart, will be required to wear face coverings, which their employers must provide free of charge.

Employees may also refuse to work in an environment where they have reasonable concerns of being at risk of contracting COVID-19. They are protected from being fired if they raise reasonable safety concerns over social media, to the press or with each other.

“It will not only protect workers. It will give employers very clear standards and things that they can do and not do, and it will ensure that when our loved ones go off to work and come home, that they’re not going to be bringing sickness with them,” said Kim Bobo, the executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy

The standard will go into effect immediately after it has been published in a Richmond city print newspaper, which the Department of Labor and Industries anticipates will happen the week of July 27. Employers will then have 30 to 60 days to train employees.

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