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Virginia adopts first-in-the-nation pandemic workplace safety rules

A server brings food to customers on the patio at Plaza Azteca in Henrico, Va., May 16, 2020.
A server brings food to customers on the patio at Plaza Azteca in Henrico, Va., May 16, 2020.(Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)
Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 3:45 PM EDT
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Social distancing and other precautions against COVID-19 will soon be mandatory in workplaces around Virginia under emergency pandemic safety regulations finalized Wednesday.

The new rules, proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam and passed by the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board, make Virginia the first state in the country to pass comprehensive safety rules for employers.

While business groups generally opposed the new rules, labor unions and other advocates lauded the effort, saying they hope other states follow suit.

“This is a victory for working people across Virginia,” said Rebecca Reindel, an OSHA expert with the AFL-CIO, which has been unsuccessfully pushing for workplace protections at the national level. The organization’s Virginia director, Doris-Crouse Mays, called it “an essential move towards boosting Virginia from the bottom-most ranking of 51st for workers.”

The Virginia Business Coalition, meanwhile, complained Northam’s administration “ignored almost every suggestion we gave” and jeopardized the state’s business-friendly reputation.

“Perhaps some will feel pleased Virginia is the first to impose a state-wide pandemic workplace mandate promoted by labor groups, but ignoring the harm it will cause the state’s businesses is shortsighted,” said Jodi Roth, a lobbyist for the Virginia Retail Federation, said in a statement. “It sends a message to Virginia businesses that the state doesn’t value their contributions and isn’t listening to their concerns, and it will discourage out-of-state businesses from ever moving here.”

The new rules will go into effect as soon as they are publicly published in a newspaper of general circulation, which the Department of Labor and Industry said they expect to occur the week of July 27.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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