All Virginia employers must have a return to work plan detailing procedures for:
-how to deal with sick employees,
-personal protective equipment (PPE), and
-anti-retaliation measures to protect employees.
The return to work procedures must follow the recent regulations passed by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI), as detailed below.
COVID REGULATIONS FOR VIRGINIA EMPLOYERS
On July 27, 2020, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) released new workplace safety regulations. The regulations apply to all Virginia employers, meaning that every workplace will need to be brought into compliance as employees return to work during the ongoing COVID pandemic.
One major feature of the new regulations is a requirement that employers develop a return-to-work plan that includes specific procedures for dealing with sick employees, workplace sanitation, social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and non-discrimination.
Since every workplace is different, there is no one-size-fits-all policy. As such, it is important that employers evaluate their specific workplaces and develop a plan that is compliant with the applicable regulations and considers the particularities unique to their businesses. There are, however, some components that should feature in nearly every return to work plan.
Know your Classifications
· DOLI has categorized workplace job duties into four types under the new regulations: very high risk, high risk, medium risk, and lower risk.
· These categories are based on the likelihood that the nature of a given worker’s duties will bring them into contact with a COVID-infected person.
· Depending on what types of job duties an employer has in the workplace, they may be required to take special steps.
· For instance, for any workplace that has medium risk workers, such workers must receive training about COVID safety, and the employer must maintain written records that the employees attended such training.
Ensure Sick Workers Stay Home
● Before a shift, ask an employee to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID by going through this checklist:
● Do I have a fever (100.4ºF or higher) or a sense of having a fever?
● Do I have a new cough that cannot be attributed to another health condition?
● Do I have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing that cannot be attributed to another health condition?
● Do I have new chills that cannot be attributed to another health condition?
● Do I have a new sore throat that cannot be attributed to another health condition?
● Do I have new muscle pain (myalgia) that cannot be attributed to another health condition or specific activity (such as physical exercise)?
● Do I have a new loss of taste or smell?
If an employee answers “yes” to any of the above questions, they should not come to work.
● Employees who experience Coronavirus symptoms while at work should report to their supervisor, leave the workplace, and only return once they have twice tested negative for the virus (such tests having been administered at least 24 hours apart), or until three days following the disappearance of symptoms (which date should also be ten days after symptoms first appeared).
● If an employee is, or has been suspected of having COVID-19, keep the employee’s identity private – only alerting those who have been in direct contact with the infected person(s) that someone in their vicinity has been diagnosed.
Social Distancing and Worker Hygiene
● Employers should require that all persons in the workplace maintain a distance of six feet between one another, and should consider measures like staggered hours, floor markings, and remote work to aid in this goal.
● Employers should also reinforce the six-foot rule by using verbal announcements, posted notices, visual cues, reduced facility capacity, and limited access to common areas.
● Workers should be instructed to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water throughout the day, especially before and after each shift.
● Hand sanitizer should be made available for all employees and guests at the entrance of the workplace.
● Encourage employees to restrain from touching eyes, mouth, or nose with hands.
Facemasks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
● Employees must wear facemasks and PPE when social distancing is not possible in the workplace.
● Make PPE available to employees as may be reasonably necessary.
● Limit air recirculation.
● Improve/modify ventilation systems to maximize outside air intake and inside air expulsion.
● Ensure that your HVAC system is functioning normally and according to its specifications.
● Implement routine cleaning practices that disinfect shared work surfaces, equipment, tools, and other machinery, as well as any common areas in the workplace. Examples of shared work surfaces include:
● Touch screens
● Door handles
● Elevator panels
● Encourage feedback from employees about your plan and potential ways you can make the workplace an even safer environment.
● Ensure that no employee is discriminated or retaliated against due to their having raised concerns about workplace safety, since the new regulations and existing state and federal regulations prohibit such adverse action.
Both the new regulations and evolving guidance from health professionals mandate that employers make and document their affirmative efforts to ensure that workplaces are as safe as possible as employees return to their regular routines. Ensuring that you have a complete and compliant return to work plan in place as soon as possible will limit employers’ exposure to liability and employees’ exposure to unsafe work conditions.