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Virginia becomes first US state to adopt COVID-19 emergency workplace safety rules

Written by
FordHarrison LLP, nationwide U.S. law firm with a singular focus on HR law.
The US has not introduced workplace safety standards at federal level in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Virginia has recently become the first state to introduce emergency workplace measures; this article provides details.

Executive summary

In what Virginia Governor Ralph Northam described as a response to an ‘absence of federal guidelines,’ Virginia became the first state in the US to establish and implement emergency workplace safety standards in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The new standard requires employers to provide workers with personal protective equipment, ensure social distancing in the workplace where possible, and sanitise workplaces pursuant to set parameters. Employers also will be required to notify all employees within 24 hours of another worker testing positive for COVID-19 and to bar employees suspected of having contact with a COVID-positive individual for a set period of time.

New requirements on Virginia businesses

Pursuant to a 26 May 2020 Executive Order, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board created and approved ‘an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention,’ aimed at balancing the needs for economic recovery and overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the new standard, employers must:

  • classify employees by risk level based on workplace hazards and job tasks;
  • require workers to maintain social distancing;
  • require workers in customer-facing positions where social distancing is not possible to wear face coverings;
  • provide frequent hand-washing or sanitising for employees;
  • regularly clean high-contact surfaces;
  • implement a system for self-assessment and screening for signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
  • implement procedures that will prevent sick employees and other outside individuals from infecting healthy workers; and
  • close or control access to common areas, breakrooms, and lunchrooms.


Specifically, employers will be required to notify all employees in the same place of employment when another employee tests positive for COVID-19 within 24 hours of the employer being notified. Employees known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 are to be barred from returning to work for ten days, or until they receive negative results from two consecutive COVID-19 tests. Fines for violations could range from USD 13,000 to USD 130,000, and are set to increase for repeat offenders.

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry anticipates the new standards will be finalised during the week of 27 July 2020, and will become effective once finalised and published in a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia. At that time, the emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website. The regulations will stay in place for six months unless repealed or made permanent through additional action.

Governor Northam and the Virginia Assembly have been actively promoting the welfare of employees in Virginia. This Order comes on the heels of multiple employment laws enacted as of 1 July 2020. For more information, see here.