RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– Governor Ralph Northam has announced new emergency workplace safety standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Virginia is the first state to declare such a mandate.
The new rules aim to protect Virginia workers across the commonwealth, with standards set to be enforced in the coming weeks.
The temporary emergency standards will remain in effect for six months. Companies could face financial penalties if they violate the policies.
The news comes after the meat and poultry industry caught the attention of lawmakers nationwide. An alarming rate of workers tested positive for COVID-19 and complained of unsafe work conditions. What followed was a coalition of labor unions and organizations making calls to Gov. Northam’s office to address workplace concerns.
“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially not during a pandemic,” Northam said.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Virginia adopts nation’s first COVID-19 workplace safety standards
The Virginia AFL-CIO was one of the organizations that spearheaded the declaration. The organization was joined by the Legal Aid Justice Center, Community Solidarity for Poultry Workers and Virginia Organizing.
“Workers now have protection for retaliation if they feel that things are unsafe,” said Doris Crouse-Mays, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO.
Crouse-Mays tells 8News the new workplace safety plan is a huge win for workers.
Should workers feel unsafe in any workplace environment, they can report a business online with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employees will not be subjected to discrimination or retaliation with the standards set in place.
As part of the new policy, all employers must mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible.
Employers must give their employees a notice within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for coronavirus. Lastly, positive employees cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.
“If we all work together to really try to do our best to keep everybody as safe as possible that will be what’s best for business in the long run,” said Kyle Healy, owner of The Boathouse restaurants.
The Boathouse in Short Pump has already implemented most of the guidelines. Hand sanitizer is set out at the front of the entrance. The restaurant only uses digital menus and staff practices social distancing while limiting the touch of frequently used surfaces.
The restaurant also keeps records of employees’ temperatures each shift.
But not all Virginia citizens are in agreement with the new safety standards. There is strong opposition on social media, with some calling the mandate overkill.
Crouse-Mays tells 8News, however, that the standards are a major improvement from the CDC guidelines.
“Guidelines are suggestions and recommendations,” Crouse-Mays said. “Standards are enforceable.”
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