In Virginia, lawmakers recently passed a series of workplace mandates designed to protect workers from COVID-19. The mandates, which are part of what’s called an “emergency temporary standard,” create impermanent measures that employers must abide by for the duration of the pandemic in order to stop the spread of the virus. The actions were taken on the heels of much of the country re-opening and seeing widespread national spikes in cases.
Companies that violate the new standards can be fined up to $130,000. The mandate includes measures for hand washing, protective gear, disinfection and distancing, and requires employers to notify all employees of possible exposure if someone tests positive for the virus within 24 hours.
Furthermore, employees who are experiencing symptoms or who are suspected of carrying the virus are barred from coming to work. This means that employers cannot force an employee to come in and risk exposing other workers, and that employees who come in despite having symptoms could be penalized.
Lagging legislation elsewhere accompanies workplace concerns
Maryland has yet to implement anything this protective, as its neighbor Virginia was the first state to adopt these measures. So far, it’s proven challenging for workers to file lawsuits against a workplace for exposure to COVID-19 alone. However, a recent article from the Maryland Reporter pointed out predictions of a rise in virus-related lawsuits in the workplace on behalf of issues like worker’s compensation, paid leave, reasonable accommodations, and safety in the workplace.
One example of a major roadblock many workers may face in states that are reopening without establishing rigid safety guidelines, like Virginia has done, is losing access to unemployment benefits while waiting on a decision over a challenge to returning to work. Numerous other avenues for loss of income are possible, making the looming onslaught of lawsuits that much more likely.
If you are facing a serious dilemma over personal safety and well-being in the workplace because of COVID-19 concerns, it’s best that you speak with an attorney who is experienced in representing workers to discuss your possible legal options.