As states struggle to identify the best ways to reopen their economies, agencies, and schools from the coronavirus-related lockdown, legislatures have been moving forward legislation to protect them and the people they employ.
Virginia Approves Worker Health & Safety Standard
The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) – the state’s version of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – will enforce a standard that mandates and, in some instances, exceeds guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA, PropertyCasualty360.com reports.
The standard protects employees who raise reasonable concerns about infection control to print, online, social, or other media. It covers most private employers in Virginia, as well as all state and local employees.
The standard also requires building and facility owners to report positive COVID-19 tests to employer tenants. It exempts private and public institutions of higher education with reopening plans certified by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and public-school divisions that submit reopening plans to the Virginia Department of Education. No such exemptions are provided to private elementary and secondary schools.
In addition to CDC and OSHA guidelines, the standard requires employers to:
- Provide flexible sick-leave policies, telework, and staggered shifts when feasible;
- Provide handwashing stations and hand sanitizer when feasible;
- Assess risk levels of employers and suppliers before entry;
- Notify the Virginia Department of Health of positive COVID-19 tests;
- Notify VOSH of three or more positive COVID-19 tests within a two-week period;
- Assess hazard levels of all job tasks;
- Provide COVID-19 training of all employees within 30 days (except for low-hazard places of employment);
- Prepare infectious disease preparedness and response plans within 60 days;
- Post or present agency-prepared COVID-19 information to all employees; and
- Maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards.
Special Legislative Session for Tennessee Liability Bill
Weeks after Tennessee’s two legislative chambers failed to come to an agreement on legislation surrounding civil liability for coronavirus, Gov. Bill Lee called the state’s General Assembly to return next week for a special session, The Tennessean reports.
Lee issued an order asking members of the legislature to return to Nashville at 4 p.m. on Aug. 10 to take up the matter, which would extend broad immunity to businesses, schools, and other entities against COVID-19-related lawsuits.
The General Assembly also is expected to take up two other bills it failed to pass before adjourning in June. One would expand medical professionals’ ability to offer telehealth services and encourage insurers to cover those costs. The other would increase penalties for protesters camping and engaging in vandalism at the Capitol. A group of protesters has remained across the street from the Capitol for more than 50 days, resulting in the arrest of some for trespassing and writing messages in chalk.
Nevada Senators Advance Liability Shield Measure
State senators in Nevada, by an overwhelming majority, advanced legislation that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to businesses, nonprofits, schools, and governmental agencies and outlining several measures intended to protect hospitality workers, The Las Vegas Sun reports.
The legislation would extend COVID-19 liability protections to many entities that have “substantially complied with controlling health standards.” Provisions of the bill would sunset either upon the termination of the current state of emergency or in July 2023.
The measure wouldn’t extend to most private health care providers.
“Unease with the bill’s focus on the tourism and gaming industry crossed party lines,” the Sun writes. “Sen. Marcia Washington, D-North Las Vegas, said she was concerned why the bill singled out hospitality workers: ‘I’m here to represent, as far as I’m concerned, everybody, all the workers in the state of Nevada,’ Washington said.”
Marie Neisess, president of the Clark County Education Association, said the bill did nothing to help teachers going back into the classroom this year.
“Even with the best safety measures in place, educators and students will still be at risk,” Neisses said. Putting a bill in place that protects the employer rather than the employee is unacceptable.”
The bill now advances to the Senate floor for final action as lawmakers continue to meet in special session.
“Rebuttable Presumption” for Essential Workers Goes to N.J. Governor
New Jersey may become the next state to enact a law presuming that essential workers who acquire COVID-19 did so on the job, Business Insurance reports.
Lawmakers in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate on Thursday passed S.B. 2380 with a 42-27 vote in the Assembly and a 27-12 vote in the Senate. The bill, introduced in early May, would create a rebuttable presumption for essential workers seeking workers compensation for acquiring COVID-19 on the job during a declared state of emergency.
The bill identifies essential employees as those whose duties are considered essential during an emergency response and recovery operation; public or private sector employees whose duties are essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare; emergency responders and workers at health-care facilities and those performing jobs that support a health-care facility, such as laundry, research, and hospital food service.
The bill moves to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. If signed into law, the legislation would take effect immediately and be retroactive to March 9. According to Business Insurance, a spokeswoman for Gov. Murphy declined to comment on whether he intended to sign the legislation.