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Michigan Governor’s Executive Order Sets Further Restrictions, Prohibits Discrimination

In Michigan, an April 3 executive order, Executive Order 2020-36, which took effect immediately, established further restrictions on individuals who are sick or who are in close contact with sick individuals. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order will remain in place until the declared emergency ends, or it is otherwise rescinded.

In issuing this executive order, the governor instituted a rule prohibiting discrimination for certain individuals staying home from work under one of these two circumstances. As such, this most recent order may have significant implications for those critical infrastructure employers continuing to operate after the original Executive Order 2020-21 expires on April 13.

Under Executive Order 2020-36, Gov. Whitmer confirmed that any individual testing positive for COVID-19 or displaying one or more of the principal symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, atypical cough, or atypical shortness of breath – should remain in their home or principal place of residence until they 1) receive a negative test, 2) three days have passed since their symptoms resolved, or 3) seven days have passed since their symptoms first appeared, or since they were swabbed for the test that yielded the positive result. 

The order also states that certain individual having “close contact” with an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 or who displays one or more of the principal symptoms of COVID-19 should also remain in their homes until either 1) 14 days have passed since they last had close contact with the sick or symptomatic individual, or 2) the symptomatic individual receives a negative COVID-19 test. 

The order specifically defines “close contact” as “being within approximately six feet of an individual for a prolonged period of time,” for example caring for, living with or sharing a waiting room with a sick or symptomatic individual. However, healthcare professionals, workers at healthcare facilities, first responders (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, etc.), child protective service employees, workers at child care institutions, and workers at correctional facilities are excluded from the order’ “close contact” requirement. Healthcare facilities are designated to include ambulance operations, aircraft transport operations, nontransport prehospital life support operations, or medical first response services; county medical care facilities; freestanding surgical outpatient facilities; health maintenance organizations; homes for the aged; hospitals; nursing homes; hospice; and hospice residences, as well as state-owned hospitals and surgical centers, state operated outpatient facilities and veterans facilities, and entities used as surge capacity by those entities.

Other than these exempted workers, affected individuals are now prohibited from leaving their homes or principal residence for the periods involved except as is absolutely necessary to obtain food, medicine, medical care, or supplies that are needed to sustain life (where those items cannot be obtained via delivery) and to engage in outdoor activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people outside their household.

These individuals are now also required to wear some form of cover over their nose and mouth such as a mask, bandana or handkerchief, if they leave their home or principal place of residence, which includes individuals previously allowed to leave their homes under the original order. 

Bans Discrimination of Workers Who Are at Home

Furthermore, Gov. Whitmer ordered that Michigan employers shall not discharge, discipline or otherwise retaliate against an employee for staying home when they are at particular risk of infecting others with COVID-19. The order requires employers to treat these individuals as if they were taking leave under Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act, even if the employer has less than 50 employees (where the act did not actually apply). 

This means that, while employers are permitted to deduct time off from an employee’s accrued leave, employers must extend leaves beyond the 40 hours provided for under Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act regardless of whether that act originally applied to them. Rather, employers must extend leave as long as the employee remains away from work under the periods required by the most recent order. To the extent the employer’s employees are exempt from the “close contact” provisions of the order, they still must provide leaves where they test positive for COVID-19 or display one or more of the principal symptoms of COVID-19. 

Just to make things even more challenging, employers are required to provide this leave without penalizing employees for failing to comply with any other employer requirement(s) that might exist, such as requiring employees to document the employee or individual with whom they had close contact who has one or more of the principal symptoms of COVID-19. Employers must essentially take their employees at their word in complying with the mandates included in Executive Order 2020-36.  

However, the order does confirm that an employer can discipline an individual who is allowed to return to work but fails to do so, “with the employee’s consent,” or for any other reason that is not unlawful. Therefore, it appears an employer would still be able to discipline an individual for obtaining leave for fraudulent reasons, especially if they provided voluntary consent.

There are significant penalties for employers who might be found in violation of Executive Order 2020-36. Although the order does not create a private right of action, it empowers enforcement by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity  in a manner similar to its enforcement of Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act. This means employers violating the governor’s order could face back pay awards and fines of up to $1,000.00. The department has also been instructed to report violations to the relevant licensing authority of any employer found to have violated the order. 

Given the potential implications involved with this executive order, employers should consider taking great care in how they respond to employee quarantine requests going forward and seek counsel if there are any questions as to whether this order applies to them and their businesses.  

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLP

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About this Author

Keith Brodie Labor & Employment Attorney
Partner

Traditional labor lawyer and employment law counselor Keith Brodie represents the interests of employers in Michigan and across the country. Personable, detail- and business-oriented when rendering critical legal advice, Keith’s willingness to listen, combined with his strategic legal thinking, allows him to serve client interests while building rapport and consensus.

Keith advises on traditional labor law matters under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). His experience includes collective bargaining negotiations, administration of collective bargaining agreements, and...

616-742-3958
Amy J. Zdravecky Employment Lawyer Barnes Thornburg
Partner

Amy is experienced in representing employers in the retail, hospitality, warehouse, distribution, manufacturing, food production, transportation and healthcare industries. She advises and trains clients on employee relations, union avoidance, collective bargaining strategies, sexual harassment and compliance with state and federal employment laws. Amy also offers an in-depth understanding of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Notably, Amy currently serves as the management chair of the Subcommittee on the Development of the Law under the NLRA for the American Bar Association, which gives her the opportunity to frequently interact with the NLRB and its general counsel and which assists her in interpreting new regulations and other unique labor law issues. A frequent author and speaker on traditional labor law matters, clients and colleagues alike value Amy for her legal acumen and responsiveness to their needs.

616-742-3988
Kenneth J. Yerkes Employment lawyer Barnes Thornburg
Partner

Chair of the firm’s Labor and Employment Department for two decades, Ken Yerkes has spent over 30 years successfully fighting for his clients' rights and business objectives at the bargaining table, in arbitration and federal and state court, as well as in plants across the country through proactive training, counseling and union avoidance campaigns.

Ken's ability to transform complex scenarios into workable strategies has earned him not only his clients' trust, but also acclaim as one of the country’s recognized leaders in labor and employment law. He is a fellow...

317-231-7513
John Koenig, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Atlanta and Indianapolis, Labor and Employment Law Attorney
Partner

John T.L. Koenig is a partner in the Labor & Employment Department of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. He maintains a national, full-service practice representing management exclusively in all aspects of labor and employment law.

Traditional Labor

Mr. Koenig represents companies in the grievance and arbitration process, collective bargaining, strike preparation, union organizing and election matters, and in unfair labor practice and representational cases before the NLRB. He frequently trains supervisors on effective and...

404-264-4018