Earlier Wednesday, the Virginia state Senate struck SB5067 from the floor calendar, removing the bill from legislative consideration. The action is a win for working families and their advocates, who have fiercely opposed proposals to shield businesses from liability if they fail to protect their employees or customers from contracting COVID-19. Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry approved a first-in-the-nation Temporary Emergency Standard to require workplace protections for employees during this deadly pandemic.
“Worker health is public health,” said David Broder, president of SEIU Virginia 512. “Essential workers have been on the front lines keeping our communities and our economy running during this pandemic. It’s our responsibility to ensure these essential workers are protected on the job and not unnecessarily putting their health at risk. Shielding businesses from responsibility for keeping their workers and customers safe risks all our health. It’s going to take a team effort to defeat this virus and business must do their part. We urge the House of Delegates to follow the Senate’s example and scuttle efforts to undermine worker health and safety.”
- In the past week, there has been an average of 997 new COVID-19 cases reported per day in Virginia.
- Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color are disproportionately getting sick and dying from COVID-19 because they are more likely to work in jobs on the COVID-19 frontlines and are the least likely to be able to work from home.
- Companies refusing to properly protect workers and the public from COVID-19 include giant corporations like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Uber, as well as companies in the meatpacking, poultry, and food processing industry, where it’s been reported that the rate of illness has exceeded 57,000 workers.
- These are not isolated incidents, but a widespread pattern across U.S. industries, with workers reporting lack of safety equipment, retaliation for speaking up about safety issues, and more blatant abuses of workers’ core rights.
- On July 15, 2020, Virginia adopted the first-in-the-nation COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect workers from COVID-19. The Standard was adopted by the Safety and Health Codes Board–a generally pro-business body– in an overwhelming 9-2 vote, after considering more than 3,300 public comments.
- As drafted and passed in committee, the now-dead SB 5067 would have provided corporations legal immunity for getting workers and consumers sick with COVID-19. Virginia corporations would have been completely immune from liability absent gross negligence or willful misconduct—standards for wrongdoing so high no worker or consumer could ever expect to meet them. Corporations would have been immune from liability even if they flagrantly violated Virginia’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.
- Key provisions of the Emergency Temporary Standard require employers to:
- Assess the risks in their workplace by job task and create a written plan for controlling those risks to virus exposures.
- Implement specific preventive methods for each occupational risk level that are based on longstanding and effective occupational safety practices.
- Establish specific procedures when employees are infected, symptomatic, or suspected positive when at home or at the worksite, including flexible sick leave when feasible.
- Report known infected employee cases of COVID-19 to the Department of Health and any outbreaks of three or more workers within a two week period to Virginia OSHA—both within 24 hours and whether or not the cases are work-related.
- Notify other employees within 24 hours that a coworker has tested positive, whether or not it is work-related.
- Follow specific procedures before infected employees can return to work.
- Implement physical distancing requirements and sanitation and disinfection protocols.
- Provide adequate PPE including gloves, a gown, a face shield or goggles, and a respirator for health care workers.
- Provide face coverings when workers cannot physically distance and respirators or other PPE are not required.
- Provide comprehensive training for workers at the greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19 and awareness training for workers at a lower risk of exposure.
- Ensure that workers are not discriminated against when they exercise their right to a safe workplace, discuss workplace hazards to coworkers, government agencies, the public, or social media, or when they need to use their own PPE.