MIOSHA’s Sean Egan: Q&A on the New Return-to-Office WorkgroupMarch 18, 2021
Michigan COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan hosted a live Q&A about the new Return-to-Office Workgroup and answered your questions about the recommendations this workgroup will develop for a phased return to office work amidst the pandemic. Read some of the top questions and responses below from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). You can already view the full presentation here.
Can an employer change in-person policies on an ongoing basis?
Yes. Employers are able to update their policies, as they have a policy in place as required by MIOSHA. Such plans need to be up to date if and when it is asked for.
Will vaccination rates be part of the return to the office?
Though vaccination rates are an important consideration and metric for returning to offices, the decision to require employee vaccinations is up to employers, not MIOSHA. It is not a requirement, but Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has guidance on this for employers. Visit this site and view Section K for more information. Egan also advises employers to consult their legal counsel on this matter.
Can MIOSHA emergency rules be modified prior to the April 14 deadline for the latest Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) order?
Yes. They can be changed as MIOSHA sees fit.
When the current MDHHS order expires on April 14, will rules be extended? Any preview of what is coming?
The focus has been on remote work policy and what it means in general. The expectation is that the rules will be extended. The Return-to-Office Workgroup will discuss recommendations to send to the Governor’s office. Egan believes this will entail a phased-in approach.
What criteria will be used for phased-in office work?
MDHHS data, vaccination rates, and availability of employee supports like child care will inform such determinations.
What protocols should be in place for return to work?
Emergency rules already cover office best practices like wearing masks, social distancing, utilizing physical barriers, and limiting congregation points (kitchens, elevators, etc.). Federal OSHA has also recommended updating ventilation systems.
Do employees need to wear masks all the time?
Within a shared space and wherever there is a congregation, yes, masks will need to be worn. Cubicles can be an interesting case depending on the type of cubicles and the height of the barriers between them.
There are many questions on what the emergency rules do and do not prohibit. Is in-person work currently prohibited?
No. Employers are required to create a plan if employees must come into the office and their work cannot be done remotely. It is all based on feasibility.
Which rules and guidelines should be followed first? MDHHS or MIOSHA? Overlap of the two.
First and foremost, MIOSHA has authority over workplace safety, while MDHHS focuses on public safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also putting out new guidance that MIOSHA has been using in their rules.
As vaccination rates increase, trends will continue to change. The return-to-work process is going to take time, but businesses need to keep moving forward, not backward. View the latest workplace guidance from MIOSHA here.