The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of life for many in Michigan. As of April 19, 2020, there have been more than 30,000 cases of COVID-19, and more than 2,300 Michiganders have died from the virus. In this way, Michigan has been affected more than many other states, as Michigan has the tenth highest population, yet the state has the third-highest number of deaths and the sixth-highest number of total cases.
To combat the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, Governor Whitmer issued an executive order requiring the closure of all schools and businesses that are “not necessary to protect or sustain life.” Additionally, residents are ordered to stay home except for when engaging in certain activities. The result is that most Michiganders are to remain home during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the employees of essential businesses, staying home may not be an option.
As noted above, the Governor’s executive order does not require the closure of essential businesses. The employees who work for these businesses and organizations are called “critical infrastructure workers” and are employed in the following industries:
- Public health
- Food and agriculture
- Water and wastewater
- Transportation and logistics
- Public works
- Communications and information technology, including news media
- Other community-based government operations and essential functions
- Critical manufacturing
- Hazardous materials
- Financial services
- Chemical supply chains and safety
- Defense industrial base
Not all employees in these sectors are considered critical infrastructure workers. Under the Governor’s executive order, even critical infrastructure operations must only staff their organizations to the extent that it is necessary to “sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.” More specifically, this refers to those workers “whose in-person presence is strictly necessary to allow the business or operation to maintain the value of inventory and equipment, care for animals, ensure security, process transactions (including payroll and employee benefits), or facilitate the ability of other workers to work remotely.” Businesses and organizations must inform essential employees and document these designations in writing.
Additionally, those businesses and organizations that employ critical infrastructure workers must adopt social distancing procedures to protect employees, customers, and others, including:
- Restricting the number of workers to no more than is strictly necessary
- Promoting remote work when possible
- Keeping workers and customers at least six feet apart, when possible, including customers waiting in line.
- Increasing the cleaning and disinfecting of the facility
- Adopting policies to prevent those employees who exhibit respiratory symptoms from coming into work
- Any other social distancing measures recommended by the Center for Disease Control
Besides the above sectors, all “in-person government activities, at whatever level that are not necessary to sustain or protect life, or to support those businesses and operations that are necessary to sustain or protect life, are suspended.” The executive order clarifies that necessary government activities include:
- Law enforcement
- Public safety
- First responders
- Public transit
- Trash pick-up
- Election employees
- Operations necessary to enable transactions that support the work of a business or operation of critical infrastructure workers, and the maintenance of safe and sanitary public parks to allow for outdoor recreation
Finally, other workers who support critical infrastructure workers are also exempt from the required closures. This includes:
- Childcare workers who serve the children or dependents of essential infrastructure workers
- Workers at certain suppliers and distribution centers
- Required insurance workers
- Workers and volunteers who provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals
- Workers who perform critical labor union activities
Determining which employees are critical infrastructure workers is not readily apparent. However, what is clear are the steps that businesses and other organizations must take to protect workers and the general public.
Employers who fail to take these recommendations seriously put employees at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Employees who have contracted COVID-19 should reach out to one of the dedicated Michigan personal injury lawyers at Sommers Schwartz, P.C., for immediate assistance. Our team of Detroit injury lawyers is ready to meet with employees over the phone or through video chat to discuss their cases. We have decades of experience advocating on behalf of injured employees and are prepared to address the unique challenges that COVID-19 work injury cases will present.
Employment Law Issues Pertaining to Essential Employees
Many Michigan workers have been laid off, furloughed, or had their hours reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other workers are being forced to work in sub-standard conditions that continuously place them in danger.
While many employers are doing their best to deal with these unprecedented times, even well-intentioned employers can go astray of what the law requires. Below are a few of the legal employment issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Wage and hour violations
- Workplace safety issues
- Issues involving work-related travel
- Violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act
- Wrongful termination
- Family Medical Leave Act violations
- Employment discrimination issues
- Employee benefit matters
- Issues involving employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspected of having contracted the virus after being exposed to someone who has tested positive
- Employees’ refusal to come to work in light of the dangers involved
- Employees’ refusal to wear protective equipment, such as a face mask
- Employers’ actions in response to an employee’s failure to follow CDC guidelines in their personal time
- Employers who refuse to let certain employees work remotely
- Violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act
While the COVID-19 pandemic puts many businesses and organizations in a challenging position, employers must take the necessary steps to ensure that they are following all applicable state and federal laws. An employer’s failure to do so may be the basis of a Michigan employment lawsuit.
Schedule a Free Consultation With an Experienced Attorney Today
If you or someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with COVID-19, or you believe that your employer has violated state or federal law, contact the dedicated Detroit personal injury and employment lawyers at Sommers Schwartz, P.C.
Our dedicated team of personal injury and employee advocates have extensive experience handling all types of claims and are prepared to address the unique issues that will undoubtedly arise in the wake of the pandemic. Sommers Schwartz is closely following developments with the global COVID-19 pandemic, and we are continuing to take measures to protect the health and safety of our staff, their families, and the general public. Because we have assembled a response team focused on maintaining a healthy workplace and business continuity, we can still offer the same high-quality representation for which we are known. To discuss your case with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call 866-443-4145 today to schedule a free consultation.