Although the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the United States is demonstrably worse than it has ever been, states are reopening (which is largely contributing to the explosion in new cases). That means more people going back to work. While the return to work is good for the economy, it puts many employees in serious danger. And due to a lack of federal guidance from agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, businesses across the country are either making their own safety policies or relying on state guidelines.
Until recently, no state had implemented safety mandates for all workplaces. But that changed when Virginia enacted an “emergency temporary standard” that imposes significant safety protocols and is backed by a financial enforcement mechanism.
Although New York has not taken such a bold step, Virginia’s policies are worth examining because they could be a template for our state and other states to follow.
According to news sources, here are some of the provisions:
- Mandates governing disinfecting, hand washing, physical distancing and use of personal protective equipment
- Prohibitions on employees showing up to work if they are suspected of having Covid-19
- A requirement that companies inform their employees within 24 hours of possible exposure
- An explicit ban on retaliation or discrimination against workers who voice safety concerns (privately or publicly)
The mandate will be in place for at least six months, and business who violate policies could face fines as high as $130,000.
Although a federal standard would be the most appropriate way to respond to Covid-related workplace safety concerns, it is doubtful that one will be developed any time soon. In the absence of federal leadership, we must hope that New York and other states adopt stringent mandates of their own for protecting worker safety.