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Virginia Drops Covid Workplace Rules

Virginia’s workplace safety board voted on Monday to withdraw the state’s emergency rules for protecting workers from Covid-19, leaving employers to follow looser guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace.

Virginia, which has its own workplace safety agency, was the first state in the country to put in place emergency standards to protect workers from the virus. Under those standards, which were enacted in July 2020 under Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, employers had to require indoor masking in higher-risk areas, as well as report Covid outbreaks to the state’s Department of Health.

The current governor, Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, instructed the state health board to re-evaluate the standards earlier this year, arguing that they presented a burden to businesses.

“The Virginia Covid-19 permanent standard became out of step with current C.D.C. guidance as well as what a lot of other states were doing to address the current state of the pandemic,” said Nathaniel M. Glasser, a lawyer at Epstein Becker & Green, who specializes in Covid-19 and employment law, adding that nothing prevents employers from going above and beyond the state guidelines.

The rules will be replaced by guidelines for employers recommending that they promote vaccination, encourage employees with symptoms to stay home and require those infected with coronavirus not to come to work.

Governor Youngkin said in a statement that “it is undeniable that Virginia is open for business.” The president of the Virginia A.F.L.-C.I.O., Doris Crouse-Mays, said the state had “opted to abandon safety protections for working people” and that “the Covid-19 crisis is still a pandemic.”

States with their own workplace safety agencies must have rules that are at least as effective as those set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA, under President Biden, tried to enact a sweeping rule requiring Covid vaccines or regular testing for some 84 million American workers. But the rule was withdrawn in January after being blocked by the Supreme Court, leaving workers and their employers across the country to confront a patchwork of state and local regulations.

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