As summarized in a recent blog post about COVID-19 workplace facemask requirements, Virginia was one of the first states in the U.S. to implement comprehensive emergency temporary COVID-19 workplace safety regulations, with a permanent set of regulations (“Permanent Standard”) implemented in September 2021, by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (“DOLI”) Safety and Health Codes Board (the “Board”). Now, with COVID-19 transmission rates, hospitalizations and deaths sharply declining across the Commonwealth and a new occupant in the governor’s mansion in Richmond, the Board has begun the regulatory process that seems likely to lead to the repeal of the Permanent Standard in the not-too-distant future.
Recall that on January 21, 2022, Glenn Youngkin was sworn in as Virginia’s new governor. One of his first official acts as governor was to sign a total of nine Executive Orders and two Executive Directives, including Executive Order 6, which ordered the Board to “convene an emergency meeting to discuss whether there is a continued need for the Permanent Standard . . .” and to report its findings to him “within 30 days.”
What did the Board do in response to Executive Order 6?
On February 16, 2022, the Board met for the first time since the issuance of Executive Order 6 and concluded that COVID-19 no longer poses a “grave danger” (the regulatory standard required to implement the Permanent Standard) to employees in Virginia, based on the Commonwealth’s strong vaccination rates compared to other states (10th in the country as of 02/05/2022) and other studies that conclude the Omicron variant is less severe, results in shorter hospital stays, and less likely to result in ICU admissions.
What Actions Were Proposed by the Board?
The board took the following actions:
- Proposed that the Permanent Standard should be repealed; and
- Authorized a 30-day written comment period and public hearing prior to any final vote to repeal the regulations.
What Can We Expect Next?
- The Board’s 30-day public comment period began on February 17, 2022, and will continue through March 19, 2022.
- The Board will schedule a public hearing to discuss and debate comments submitted by the public. The public hearing is expected to be held in the next 30 days.
- The Board will take a final vote on the proposal to repeal the Permanent Standard at the second meeting, following expiration of the 30-day public comment period.
The COVID-19 Permanent Standard will remain in full force and effect for Virginia employers unless and until modified or repealed by the Board, although under less regulatory agency scrutiny than may have been the case previously. Governor Youngkin directed “all Virginia Agencies of the Commonwealth under my authority . . . to focus their limited resources on enforcement activities that have the most impact with the least burden on our businesses and citizens.”
This blog will be updated with the details of any changes to the Virginia COVID-19 Permanent Standard. In the interim, if you need assistance with these or other COVID-19-related issues or questions for your business, please contact Doug Taylor at (703) 525-4000 or firstname.lastname@example.org or your current Bean, Kinney & Korman attorney.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.