State laws Workplace exposures

COVID-19 pandemic: Virginia approves nation’s first emergency temporary standard

Photo: Virginia Department of Labor and Industry

Richmond, VA — Virginia became the first state to approve an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from COVID-19, after the Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted July 15 to approve the new rules.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living – especially not during a pandemic,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said in a press release announcing the standards. “In the absence of federal action, Virginia has just become the first state in the nation to adopt enforceable workplace safety standards for COVID-19.”

The standard (16 VAC 25-220) will be in place for six months and can be made permanent through the process defined in state law. It requires the following:

  • Social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible
  • Frequent access to handwashing stations or hand sanitizer
  • Cleaning of high-contact surfaces
  • Notification of all employers within 24 hours of a co-worker testing positive
  • Prohibiting employees known or suspected to have COVID-19 from returning to work for 10 days or until they have two consecutive negative tests

Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, applauded the news.

“The virus continues to pose a grave danger to working people, and this strong, enforceable standard requires state employers to improve working conditions through clear, science-based measures, preventing further outbreaks in our communities,” Trumka said in a statement posted online.

State industry associations criticized the standard during last month’s public comment period.

The Virginia Forestry Association wrote that “unfortunately, 16 VAC 25-220 shifts from voluntary adoption of common-sense measures that businesses can adapt to their own operating procedures to one-size-fits-all requirements that create regulatory uncertainty and threaten our industry’s small businesses.” 

The Virginia Poultry Federation pointed to industry-specific guidance issued and updated by OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claiming the state’s standard “is little more than a summary of existing OSHA and CDC guidance already in effect.” 


Virginia DOLI developed the standard in response to an Executive Order signed May 26 by Northam directing the department to “control, prevent and mitigate” the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

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