As a reminder, Governor Northam has called a Special Session of the General Assembly to begin on August 2nd. There is not currently an end date sate for the Session. The General Assembly will be taking up the Governor's proposed budget amendments regarding the spending of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funding that Virginia received. They will also be voting on Judges during the Special Session.

VRF will keep you informed as things progress during the Special Session. Please be on the lookout for potential Action Alerts on important issues that could impact the Retail Industry.

VRF’s priority issues will be requesting that the General Assembly use ARPA funds to shore up the Unemployment Trust Fund. If this is done, it will prevent a huge payroll tax increase for all employers across the Commonwealth. Virginia Employment Commission recently reported Virginia businesses’ payroll taxes will quadruple in January 2022. Payroll taxes are expected to soar next year from an average of $90 per employee to $360 per employee. It is critical that the General Assembly invest significant ARPA funds to the Unemployment Trust Fund to prevent this from happening.

The Governor has announced that he would like the General Assembly to invest $862 million of ARPA funds into the Unemployment Trust Fund. See his press release here (Virginia Governor Ralph Northam - July). VRF will work hard to make sure members of the General Assembly understand how important it is to maintain this funding for Virginia’s retailers.

 

 

 

 
 

Last week the Virginia Health and Safety Codes Board voted to adopt changes to the COVID-19 Permanent Standard.

Virginia Retail Federation, along with the Virginia Business Coalition, strongly advocated that the board repeal the Permanent Standard and remove the static regulatory burden in Virginia; and secondly, if the board chose to keep the standard in place, to adopt Governor Northam’s recommendation to provide employers with safeguards should they comply with the most recent CDC guidance. 

The board voted by a vote of 10-4 to adopt our second recommendation.

Specifically, they amended Section 16Vac25-220-10.E to say:

To the extent that an employer actually complies with a recommendation contained in CDC guidelines, whether mandatory or nonmandatory, to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 disease-related hazards or job tasks addressed by this standard, the employer's actions shall be considered in compliance with the related provisions of this standard. An employer's actual compliance with a recommendation contained in CDC guidelines, whether mandatory or non-mandatory, to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 related hazards or job tasks addressed by a provision of this standard shall be considered evidence of good faith in any enforcement proceeding related to this standard. The Commissioner of Labor and Industry shall consult with the State Health Commissioner for advice and technical aid before making a determination related to compliance with CDC guidelines.

The Board also approved, by a vote of 11-3, the Department of Labor and Industry’s recommendation to allow businesses over 11 employees, who must prepare a “Infectious disease preparedness and response plan,” to exclude counting employees who are vaccinated when determining their employee count. 

These changes are now before the Governor for review, and after that step they will be sent to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for publication. Publication in the RTD is considered public notice, and therefore officially activates changes adopted by the Board.

Although we do not have a specific date of when this will occur, we anticipate that the changes will be effective by mid to late September. VRF will keep members informed as to when the changes officially go into effect.

 

You may view the meeting where the board reviewed all proposed and adopted changes to the standard by clicking here.

 

(OSHA) issued new guidance on COVID-19 safety for all industries focused on protecting workers who are not vaccinated or who are otherwise at risk in the workplace. OSHA urges all employers to familiarize themselves with the guidance as soon as possible. 

READ THE FULL GUIDANCE HERE. 

Below are selected key points taken from the guidance.  

  • Provide employees with paid leave for the COVID-19 vaccination: The refundable Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) tax credit may be available to businesses who provide paid leave for receiving the COVID-19 vaccination and recovering from the vaccination.
  • Promote distancing of unvaccinated and at-risk workers in workplace common areas: Employers can limit the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in one work area at any given time by, for example, implementing flexible worksites and shifts. If employees in a specific work area cannot be separated, employers can separate such employees with solid barriers (e.g., transparent shields).
  • Provide face coverings for unvaccinated and at-risk workers at no cost, unless their work requires other PPE like a respirator: Unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers should wear face coverings, and employers should provide face coverings at no cost. Employers can refer to CDC guidance on masks. Employers may need to provide reasonable accommodations to workers for disability or religious reasons under Title VII. If PPE is necessary at the worksite, employers should follow relevant mandatory OSHA standards and may contact an OSHA professional for help determining the proper face covering.
  • Recommend unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in workplaces where unvaccinated or at-risk workers interact with customers

Below is a list of a few of the bills that passed in the 2021 General Assembly Session that will become effective as of Thursday, July 1st. Many other bills passed that impact the retail industry but they either went into effect immediately or had a delayed effective date.

From the Office of the Governor: 

Commonwealth has administered nearly 7 million vaccines, 63 percent of Virginia adults have received at least one dose

Governor Ralph Northam today lifted Virginia’s universal indoor mask mandate to align with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Governor Northam also announced that Virginia will ease all distancing and capacity restrictions on Friday, May 28, two weeks earlier than planned. The updates to Virginia’s mask policy are reflected in amendments to Executive Order Seventy-Two and will become effective at midnight tonight along with previously announced changes to mitigation measures.

The CDC guidelines state that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in most indoor settings, except on public transit, in health care facilities, and in congregate settings. Businesses retain the ability to require masks in their establishments. Employees who work in certain business sectors—including restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, and entertainment—must continue to wear masks unless fully vaccinated, per CDC guidance. Those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear masks in all settings. 
 
The state of emergency in Virginia will remain in place at least through June 30 to provide flexibility for local government and support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Governor Northam will take executive action to ensure individuals have the option to wear masks up to and after that date. Masks will continue to be required in K-12 public schools, given low rates of vaccination among children.

  • Read the full press release here.
  • View the video message from Governor Northam here
  • The full text of Executive Order 72, which takes effect on May 15, can be found here
  • The full text of Executive Order 79, which takes effect on May 28, can be found here

 

During this time of transition, VRF would like to encourage all businesses to pro-actively communicate with both employees and the public via social media, signage, and other forms of communication regarding what their specific policy is on masks and whether they are required to enter their business.