Virginia is leading the nation in protecting its workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week Virginia became the first state in the nation to pass rules requiring employers to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Here at Burnett & Williams we frequently field questions about workplace injuries and whether employers can be held liable for an injury a worker sustains on the job. While each incident of workplace injury is unique, the coronavirus pandemic has brought up even more questions about an employer’s legal responsibility in keeping workers safe. How much responsibility rests on employers to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 outbreak?
These new enforceable workplace safety requirements, issued by Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes board, put responsibility for the health and safety of workers squarely on the shoulders of business owners in the state. Simply put, these rules require businesses to implement safety measures aimed at keeping workers safe from contracting coronavirus. The new rules — “emergency temporary standards” that will be in effect for at least 6 months — require businesses to adopt many of the coronavirus safety measures that we have become familiar with in recent months: workers must follow social-distancing guidelines, they must be provided with a mask to wear anytime they deal with customers, and when distancing is impossible employers must provide access to hand-washing or hand sanitizer and also must regularly clean surfaces. And if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, the employer must notify all of the other employees within 24 hours.
With this action, these are no longer simply recommendations for a business owner to keep in mind, they are regulations that employers are legally bound to follow. In terms of personal injury liability, business owners who don’t follow the rules will potentially suffer consequences.
There has been widespread concern about worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic, and questions about whether employers could be held liable if an employee contracted COVID-19 on the job. These new rules make it clear that in Virginia, a business owner is at fault if they do not follow the safety procedures meant to keep workers safe from contracting the coronavirus. And the repercussions for not following the rules are significant, with fines of as much as $130,000 for violations deemed willful and serious. Further, workers who feel unsafe on the job or who wish to report instances where their place of work is in violation of the safety measures are protected as whistleblowers.
These rules are set to take effect within weeks, placing new responsibilities on business owners and hopefully providing a greater sense of security for workers as Virginia’s economy moves further into its reopening. It is always a business owner’s responsibility to maintain a safe, healthy workplace, but this novel coronavirus is stretching everyone into new territory, including Virginia’s personal injury attorneys. If you are someone you love has any questions about workplace safety and any injury you may have received, please call us at 1-800-969-1650, or contact one of our 7 offices around the Commonwealth.