MIOSHA's COVID emergency office rules to be extended six months, gov says

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan plans to extend COVID-19 emergency business place rules that expire Wednesday, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday the extension does not mean six more months of prohibitions on in-office work. 

Whitmer said her administration is working with businesses, labor and public health experts "to promulgate what that back-to-work cadence looks like."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked about the statewide COVID-19 vaccination effort and business rules during a media availability outside the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center on Monday, April 12, 2021.

"But at this juncture, with our high positivity numbers, it's really important that we extend for another six months so that we have the ability to work through what these protocols look like and get people back into the workplace when it's safe to do so with the right protocols," Whitmer said at a Ypsilanti press conference. 

There has been pressure from chambers of commerce and business leaders to lift the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration's rules that have kept many workers from returning to the office. Business chambers and leaders launched a coalition last month to call on the governor to ease the policy that Michigan employers are able to bring more people back to the office.

The Reopen Michigan Safely coalition said Monday it opposed the extension, arguing it would keep offices closed for six months, "despite little evidence that carefully managed offices are sources of spread."

"Whitmer’s restrictions are making it extremely difficult for businesses to remain competitive versus other states where employees can safely work together to innovate in response to myriad challenges created by the pandemic," the group said, adding that employee mental health and municipal income tax revenue were suffering because of the continued office restrictions.

MIOSHA has argued the current policy does not prohibit in-person work. It's likely companies could bring more workers in if they adjust their plans and have safety protocols in place, agency officials have argued.

Current rules require remote work if it is feasible. Feasibility is largely dependent on a company's economic and technical capabilities to enable and sustain remote work, Sean Egan, director of Michigan COVID-19 workplace safety for the agency, said last month.

Eleven businesses and one city fined more than $50,000 for COVID-19 workplace violations are fighting to appeal their citations, some arguing the fines are the last vestiges of emergency orders that were later ruled unconstitutional. At least two of the entities contend they aren’t guilty of the alleged violations. Even if they were, they argue, the fines are essentially moot since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's emergency COVID-19 rules were overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court Oct. 2.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn,center, chat with Pastor Larry Davis of Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church outside a COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center, Monday, April 12, 2021.

The governor last month named state agency, municipal, business and labor leaders to the Return-to-Office Workgroup to give recommendations on how to return people to offices safely.