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Employer Actions to Comply With Michigan “Stay-at-Home” Executive Order 2020-21

Employer Actions to Comply with Michigan “Stay-at-Home” Executive Order 2020-21 Effective Tuesday March 24, 12:01 am, Employers are with certain exceptions, ordered by Governor Whitmer to cease all operations that cannot be performed by employees working remotely from their homes. […]

Employer Actions to Comply with Michigan “Stay-at-Home” Executive Order 2020-21

Effective Tuesday March 24, 12:01 am, Employers are with certain exceptions, ordered by Governor Whitmer to cease all operations that cannot be performed by employees working remotely from their homes. “Individuals” residing in Michigan, including employees, are similarly ordered to “stay at … their residence,” again with certain exceptions. To emphasize the importance of the order and to give it the most broad effect, it is to “be construed broadly to prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life.[1] EO 2020-21 §1 (referred to as the “EO”). This article focuses on the obligations of Employers employing workers in Michigan. The Order is available here.


Fundamental Prohibition on In-Person Work

The specific prohibition on in-person work in EO Section 4 states in its entirety:

“No person or entity shall operate a business or conduct operations that require workers to leave their homes or places of residence except to the extent that those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.”

Thus, all in-person work must be:

  • Necessary to sustain or protect life, or
  • Necessary to conduct the minimum basic operations of the Employer.

Workers expected to perform “minimum basic operations” as permitted under Section 4 are those “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.” EO §4.b.

Critical Infrastructure Workers are Permitted to Perform In-Person Work

Employees permitted to engage in in-person work are referred to as “critical infrastructure workers,” adopting the terms used in federal Coronavirus enactments. EO §4.a. Critical infrastructure workers include workers so designated under federal guidance issued March 19, 2020, available here. Federal guidance adopted in the EO limits critical infrastructure workers to those “who conduct a range of operations and services that are essential to continued critical infrastructure.” Id p. 1. This federal guidance includes an industry-specific discussion, “Identifying Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.” Id., pp. 4 et seq. Thus, workers in the identified sectors may or may not be allowed to engage in in-person work, and it remains the responsibility of the Employer to determine that each “critical infrastructure worker” is properly so categorized. The Michigan EO adopts the following sectors as identified in the federal guidance:

  1. Health care and public health.
  2. Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders.
  3. Food and agriculture.
  4. Energy.
  5. Water and wastewater.
  6. Transportation and logistics.
  7. Public works.
  8. Communications and information technology, including news media.
  9. Other community-based government operations and essential functions.
  10. Critical manufacturing.
  11. Hazardous materials.
  12. Financial services.
  13. Chemical supply chains and safety.
  14. Defense industrial base.

The Michigan EO adds to the above list the following sectors:

  1. Child care workers serving dependents of critical infrastructure workers.
  2. Workers in designated supply and distribution centers, including workers needed to supply or distribute to other such centers. There are specific criteria for this category and “[b]usinesses … that abuse their [supplier/distributor] designation authority shall be subject to sanctions to the fullest extent of the law.” EO 9.b.6.
  3. Insurance industry.
  4. the provision of “food, shelter, and [life] necessities” to persons who are (a) economically disadvantaged, (b) otherwise needy, (c) disabled, or who (d) need assistance due to the Coronavirus emergency. The Governor, in guidance issued after the EO, clarified that hotels and places of lodging provide critical infrastructure to the extent that the customers of those businesses are providing mitigation or containment efforts or are themselves critical infrastructure workers of other employers.
  5. Labor union officials including benefit fund administrators.

Obligations of Employers Intending to Continue Operations

  1. Duty to Designate Critical Infrastructure Workers

Most employers that continue to conduct in-person operations under the EO must designate and inform those workers. Designations must be in an ordinary or electronic writing after March 31, until that date, designations may be oral. EO §5.a.

Employer operations involving the following situations are exempt from required designations:

  • “health care and public health” services;
  • “necessary government activities;” and,
  • community shelter, food and life necessities operations as described above.
  1. Duty to Suspend Other Operations

An Employer that continues to operate with permitted in-person workers must suspend all other operations. EO § 5.b.[2] As an example, a hotel providing lodging to persons who are themselves critical infrastructure workers of other employers must suspend all non-lodging services and amenities such as in-service restaurant and gym access.

Since compliance with EO § 5.b. is a requirement of permissibly performing any in-person work, the improper continuation of “other operations” would appear to put at risk the permissibility of otherwise-allowed in-person work performed by critical infrastructure workers.

  1. Adoption of Workplace Social Distancing Practices

The operating Employer must adopt social distancing procedures including adoption of the most restrictive practices on workplace access, promoting remote work “to the fullest extent possible,” screening and requiring symptomatic workers and workers with possible exposure to COVID-19 to remain away from the workplace, and engaging in robust workplace hygiene and disinfectant practices. Stringent and aggressive fulfillment of this duty may predictably be expected under the General Duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act (OSHA) in later review actions.

We recommend in addition to the EO requirements that the Employer immediately (1) adopt these required social distancing policies in writing, (2) where workers have public contact, adopt policies that apply social distancing requirements to the public persons coming in contact with workers, including pre-access screening for travel, exposure and other risk factors, and (3) post, publicize, and train all workers of all such policies and requirements.

  1. Additional Workplace Safety Guidance and Advice

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are maintaining and updating a useful website, Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease. Topics include “Maintaining Healthy Business Operations” and “Maintaining a Health Work Environment.”


The stated penalty for violation is minor, specifically, a “willful violation” is designated as a misdemeanor – criminal – violation.

The Order as presently issued expires April 13, 2020 at 11:59 pm.

[1] All italicized language when quoting the Executive Order is added as assistance to the reader.

[2] Note while EO § 5.b. literally references, and thus permits, only activities “to sustain or protect life,” we interpret this provision, which applies to employment of critical infrastructure workers, also to include and permit the employment of workers designated as necessary to conduct minimum basic operations of the Employer.

Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Dave Houston has over 40 years of experience representing employers in planning, counseling, and litigating virtually all employment claims and disputes including labor relations (NLRB and MERC), wage and overtime, and employment discrimination, and negotiation of union contracts. He has authored numerous publications regarding employment issues. You can reach him at 517.377.0855 or