RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Worker Safety Board on Monday night voted to remove COVID-19 workplace restrictions.

The board’s decision to remove the COVID-19 safety standards comes just a week after DOLI and the Governor’s Office released a new draft of workplace guidelines. More information on the proposed guidelines can be found below.

The board, consisting of former governor Ralph Northam appointees, with six unanimous votes, approved the change — six members were absent.

Virginia was the first U.S. state to implement COVID-19 workplace safety standards, originally beginning in July 2020.

Virginia’s labor safety requirements also increased in January 2021; requiring employers to enforce rules such as mask mandates and sanitation standards.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin applauded the board’s decision, as it reflected the executive orders he issued on his first day in office.

“Businesses asked us for updated workplace guidance to reflect our current COVID-19 situation in Virginia. We are pleased with the board’s move and this vote signals that a return to normalcy in Virginia is not a partisan issue,” Gov. Youngkin said in a statement following the board’s decision. “We’re going to continue providing greater certainty and decision-making power to businesses and workers in the Commonwealth as we move beyond the pandemic. With the removal of these regulations, it is undeniable that Virginia is open for business.”

More on the DOLI guidelines

The guidelines document came in response to the recent decline of COVID-19 infections in Virginia.

The document begins by outlining the progress Virginia has made toward immunity, calling it a “transition to near normalcy.”

“[DOLI] support and respect the rights of individuals to choose whether to wear masks or to not wear masks in non-federally mandated environments, unless required by law or as medically appropriate in cases of acute illness or in certain healthcare environments.”

Youngkin’s office said they would “not allow or condone illegal discrimination based on wearing or not wearing masks, and people should not be fired or terminated for not wearing a mask, except as noted above, or unless required by federal law.”

“Because the COVID-19 vaccine and booster reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from the COVID-19 virus, this guidance specifically recommends, but does not mandate, COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters for workers.”

Employers are encouraged to “facilitate” employees getting vaccinated and boosted, but the language carries with it some ambiguity. Would this mean employees are provided time off to deal with the symptoms that sometimes come with vaccination? It is unclear what “facilitating” would exactly mean in this context.

The full list of guidelines are below:

  • Facilitate employees getting vaccinated and boosted;
  • Encourage any workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work and seek advice on testing and treatment from their physician;
  • Require all workers infected with COVID-19 virus to stay home;
  • Provide workers with face coverings or surgical masks, as appropriate;
  • Encourage good sanitary work habits such as frequent hand washing;
  • Educate workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in languages they understand;
  • Operate and maintain ventilation systems in accordance to manufacturers specifications to achieve optimal performance;
  • Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths which are mandatory under VOSH regulations part 1904; and,
  • Follow other applicable mandatory VOSH standards.

Employers 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.