Why Michigan is Extending COVID-19 Workplace Restrictions, and What Those Rules Require

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Detroit Free Press
April 13, 2021
Dave Boucher

State officials on Tuesday formally announced they had extended Michigan’s workplace restrictions for another six months, citing the virus surge in the state.

The restrictions mirror those already in place, but were blasted by some business associations.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state officials say the extension does not mean businesses cannot have in-person work before October, adding that restrictions could be lifted when COVID-19 trends improve.

“Emergency rules help keep us all safe by ensuring that employers implement common sense safety standards to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace,” Whitmer said in a statement.

“When employers maintain a safe workplace, that gives workers and consumers the confidence to keep our economy moving.”

Since last March, more than 40 worker deaths in Michigan have been tied to COVID-19. The Michigan Occupational and Safety Health Administration has received more than 12,000 complaints from employees who allege their workplace is not following COVID-19 safety protocols.

The previous restrictions, issued in October by MIOSHA, were set to expire on Wednesday.

Separate restrictions issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will expire Monday.

The rules do not prevent businesses from allowing employees to work in person. Instead, they require businesses to prohibit in-person work for any tasks that could be completed remotely.

“If I’m only coming in there because there’s where my cubicle is assigned and I…don’t do much, I don’t connect with databases, you probably don’t want that person in (the office) anyway because you want that social distancing,” said Sean Egan, COVID-19 workplace safety director. “But certainly if employers, it’s not feasible for their employees to be remote, they can have them in the office. There are a lot of people working in offices across the state of Michigan.”

Other rules include:

  • Providing face masks to all employees free of charge and requiring they be worn at least in common areas and when social distancing is not possible
  • Providing additional protective equipment where required, including respirators, goggles and more
  • Developing and using a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan that follows state and federal health guidelines
  • Evaluating the COVID-19 risks of each position at a workplace and outlining what the employer will do to mitigate those risks
  • Promoting workplace healthy practices, such as frequent hand-washing, social distancing and staying home from work when sick
  • Creating a screening protocol for all employees who do work on site, which should include a questionnaire about symptoms or exposure chances and a temperature check
  • Preventing anyone with a known or suspected COVID-19 case from being at the workplace
  • Notifying the local health department and any potentially exposed colleagues within 24 hours when employers learn an employee has COVID-19
  • Maintaining records of COVID-19 protocol training and screenings for each employee

There are also specific rules for different industries.

Those rules include:

Construction and manufacturing 

  • Creating a screening process at a central entry point and having barriers to prevent people from avoiding the screens
  • Using stickers or some other means to indicate when someone is screened

Retail, libraries, museums and entertainment venues (lsuch as arenas and cinemas)

  • Requiring patrons to wear masks unless they meet one of the many exemptions allowed for not wearing masks, including medical or religious reasons
  • Posting signs explaining the new rules and asking customers who are sick to not enter
  • Installing plexiglass or other similar barriers at check out locations

Restaurants and bars

  • Requiring people to wear masks unless they are seated and eating or if they are exempt
  • Ensuring tables are separated at least six feet
  • Posting signs explaining the new rules and asking customers who are sick to not enter and to wear masks unless eating
  • Requiring staff to wear masks

Health care facilities

  • Posting signs informing people they need to wear masks
  • Requiring visitors and patients to wear masks unless unable to do so or an exam requires removing the mask
  • Ensuring waiting areas comply with social distancing guidelines
  • Conducting screenings for patients, including temperature checks

Earlier this year, the state created a workgroup to explore how to safely return to working in person. Egan said more recommendations are expected from the group as soon as next week.

Despite Whitmer’s pledge that the new restrictions will not mean offices shut down for months, business groups came out against the extension late Monday.

“Extending these rules for another six months is a body blow many businesses may never recover from,” said Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and a frequent Whitmer critic.

“Despite the rapid distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the ability to safely manage office spaces, the governor used work groups as cover for her predetermined decision to close businesses for up to a year. Gov. Whitmer’s inability to find ways to work with job creators to restart our economy is a complete leadership failure that will cause economic pain for Michigan workers for years to come.”

Leaders of chambers in Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Battle Creek and southern Wayne County expressed similar frustrations.

Egan said the biggest pushback has been on perceived restrictions on in-person work. But if an employer determines an employee needs to be at the office, and that employer follows the rules, then that person can work at the office, Egan said.

The state has indicated for months it would likely extend these restrictions. Egan noted they can be eased at any time. He said workforce recommendations will focus on ways to safely reintegrate more in-person work while acknowledging the lasting impacts of the pandemic, like such as child-care concerns for employees with children who are required to attend school virtually.

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