Virginia Promulgates the Nation’s First Mandatory COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulation

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) on infectious disease prevention.  With that, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to prevent and/or reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  VA EOThe Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve the ETS after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in a May Executive Order (the same EO that mandated the use of masks in public for all Virginians).  Specifically, Governor Northam directed:

“The Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry shall promulgate emergency regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The regulations and standards … shall apply to every employer, employee, and place of employment within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) program.”

Virginia state officials said they were forced to act because federal OSHA had not developed an employer safety standard to protect against infections from the Coronavirus, and thus the burden to do so has been left to the states.

The ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, will go into effect after it is published in a newspaper in Richmond, VA, which is expected to occur the week of July 27th.  The rule will remain in effect as an ETS for at least six months, but can be made permanent through the Virginia OSHA (VOSH) formal rulemaking process defined by state law.  Although the Final Rule has not been published, the rulemaking process has been somewhat public, with early drafts of the rule discussed and debated in public meetings, and what appears to be the final rule published today.

While some requirements apply to all employers of any size and in any industry, the Rule requires employers to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace, and to categorize employees’ job tasks as “very high,” “high,” “medium,” or “lower” (as defined in the Rule).  The hazard assessment has to be verified by a written certification that identifies the workplace evaluated, the person certifying that the evaluated was completed, the dates of the assessment, and the document as a certification.

Each category has a separate list of precautions employers are required to take Continue reading

California Governor Deploys COVID-19 “Strike Force” Over Holiday Weekend to Enforce Workplace Restrictions

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force 

California increased its efforts to combat COVID-19 over the July 4th holiday weekend by deploying multi-agency strike teams to visit or otherwise make contact with businesses to evaluate and enforce compliance with and/or educate them about the State’s numerous COVID-19 orders, directives, and guidance.

The “Strike Force” includes representatives from at least ten different state agencies.  Approximately 100 agents are from the Alcohol Beverage Control agency and the rest from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the California Highway Patrol, the Board of Barbering & Cosmetology, Consumer Affairs, Food and Agriculture, Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and other state licensing entities.

Ahead of the July 4th holiday, Governor Newsom ordered bars, indoor restaurants, movie theaters and more to close in a number of counties on a state watch list.  The state monitoring list is ever changing and represents counties with a need for more support and/or enforcement.

Over the holiday, hundreds of state inspectors fanned out across California to enforce health orders related to Coronavirus.

The State’s actions are likely authorized by Executive Order N-33-20, which generally directs all residents immediately to heed current State public health directives to stay home, Calif EOexcept as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors and additional sectors as the State Public Health Officer “may designate” as critical to protect health and well-being of all Californians.  As for the crackdown, the actions taken are likely be based on recent Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey’s Multi-Disciplinary COVID-19 Task Force Resources

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As employers around the country grapple with the employment law and workplace safety implications of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”), COVID-19 Task Force PageConn Maciel Carey formed a national, multi-disciplinary legal and regulatory task force dedicated to helping our clients across all industries manage the multitude of pandemic-related issues employers are facing and preparing them for the tidal wave of litigation that is waiting around the corner.

As part of our COVID-19 Task Force, the firm’s dedicated Workplace Safety, Labor and Employment, and Litigation attorneys have produced a comprehensive set of resources to guide employers through this uncharted territory and the unique workplace challenges presented by the presence of a new health hazard in our nation’s workplaces.

We have now pulled those resources together in a single location — Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force Page, where employers can find:

Our COVID-19 Task Force has spent the last few months working with our clients to: Continue reading

COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan: What It Is and Why Every Employer Needs One

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As states across the country begin to loosen or lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders, many workplaces that had been idled, have just begun to or will soon resume operations.  Many states and localities are setting as a precondition for reopening, a requirement that they develop and implement a written, site-specific COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.

Regardless of any state or local requirement to develop such a plan, any business that operates without an Exposure Control Plan will be potentially exposed to a number of legal or business risks, such as an OSHA citation, being shutdown by a state or local health department, and/or becoming a target for a wrongful death action brought by families of employees, temporary workers, customers, vendors and/or guests. They should also plan to deal with a workforce that is scared and anxious about the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which may result in employees refusing to work (which would disrupt and complicate scheduling) and/or making regular and frequent complaints to OSHA about the purported unchecked hazard in your workplace.  Responding to these complaints will take time and cost money, distracting your business from its mission.  Retaliation claims under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is another foreseeable consequence of a scared workforce.  Without an Exposure Control Plan in place, the legal vulnerabilities will be real and are potentially significant.

We focus below on five key reasons employers must develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.  But first, what is an exposure control plan?

What is an Exposure Control and Response Plan?

When OSHA identifies a serious safety or health hazard, it usually requires employers to develop a written program including the measures employers will take to counteract the hazard.  For example, OSHA requires written lockout/tagout programs to protect against hazardous energy; respiratory protection programs and process safety management programs to protect against hazardous chemical exposures; and emergency action plans to protect against the risk of fires in the workpalce.  Simply put, a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan is a written safety plan outlining how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19, covering issues such as:

  • How you will facilitate social distancing in your workplace;
  • What engineering or administrative controls you will implement when workers cannot remain at least 6′ apart;
  • The steps that you will take to ensure employees comply with personal hygiene practices;
  • What types of protective equipment you will provide for various tasks and operations;
  • What enhanced housekeeping protocols will be implemented for frequently touched surfaces, tools, and machines;
  • What you are doing to prevent/screen sick workers from entering the workplace;
  • How you will respond to confirmed or suspected cases among your workforce; and
  • How you will communicate with and train your workforce on these mitigation measures.

Five Reasons to Develop a Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan

First, whether you have remained open because you are an essential business or plan to reopen soon, you may soon find yourself required to Continue reading

Puerto Rico Issues Executive Order Requiring Site-Specific COVID-19 Exposure Control Plans

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On May 1, 2020, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced of Puerto Rico issued a COVID-related Executive Order (“EO 2020-038”), which imposes a number of requirements upon employers, included among them that every employer must develop a comprehensive, site-specific COVID-19 exposure control plan prior to reopening.  The Executive Order also makes clear that employers already open under prior exemptions to prior lockdown orders must also prepare a plan and must do so as soon as possible.

To implement the Executive Order, the Puerto Rico Secretary of Labor issued Circular Letter 2020-03 (“CL 2020-03”), setting forth the elements that must be covered in the plan, including the requirement that the plan be “exclusive to [your] particular workplace.”

There are 22 total elements that must be covered, including the requirements that the plan:

  • Be a written document, specific to the workplace and contemplates the particular tasks, the physical structure and the number of employees.
  • Include recommendations issued by local, national and international health agencies regarding controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Detail the monitoring and/or screening process of personnel prior to entering the workplace.
  • Indicate the control measures that will be taken to achieve the physical distance between employees and clients/public.
  • Indicate how adequate ventilation will be provided to ensure adequate air flows and, in locations with air conditioning systems, effective filtering.
  • Include and detail the method that will be implemented for Continue reading