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Michigan Ramps Up Workplace Safety Regulations and Enforcement Powers Under New Executive Order

May 19, 2020

UPDATE: On May 21, 2020 Gov. Whitmer rescinded Executive Order 2020-91 and released an amended order that includes new provisions governing outpatient health care facilities. Read more in our advisory: New MI Executive Order Allows Outpatient Health Care Facilities To Resume Non-Essential Procedures Starting May 29

Gov. Whitmer released detailed new workplace safety regulations on Monday, May 18, 2020 through Executive Order 2020-91 (Order). The Order also provides the State of Michigan with enhanced enforcement capabilities and greater consequences for employers who disregard the rules. The Order does not identify an expiration date for the new workplace rules.

New Workplace Safety Rules

The Order sets out 17 general workplace safety rules that apply to all employers who are conducting in-person operations during the coronavirus pandemic, pursuant to Executive Order 2020-92. While some of these workplace safety rules are restated from previous executive orders, others – such as the requirement that employers designate one or more workplace supervisors to oversee COVID-19 control strategies – are new. New rules include mandated COVID-19 employee training and the development of a daily entry self-screening protocol for all employers.

In addition to the general workplace safety rules, the Order identifies numerous industry-specific workplace safety rules to combat the spread of COVID-19. Industries that must comply with these specific rules are: employers whose work is performed outdoors; construction; manufacturing; research laboratories (excluding labs that perform diagnostic testing); retail stores that are open for in person sales; offices; and restaurants and bars.

Enhanced Enforcement Powers

Previously, employers who failed to follow COVID-19 workplace safety rules were subject to a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail. The Order now provides two new routes for enforcement. First, the workplace safety rules are given the force and effect of regulations adopted by the state agencies that oversee workplace health and safety. Such agencies are given full authority to enforce the rules, and any challenges to penalties must move through the agencies’ administrative appeals process. Second, the Order states that violations of the workplace safety rules are also violations of the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Act (MIOSHA). As a result, Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will have the authority to conduct investigations into violations, issue penalties and distribute cease operation orders.

In addition, because the Order mandates employee training on how to report unsafe working conditions, employers should anticipate the possibility of such internal reports or MIOSHA investigations. Employers should also be mindful not to retaliate against employees who file such complaints.

Varnum attorneys are ready to assist employers with compliance matters and responses to complaints concerning unsafe workplaces, including MIOSHA investigations. Please contact any member of Varnum’s labor and employment team for assistance.

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