Governor’s Executive Order Protecting Workers Exposed to Coronavirus From Discharge or Retaliation
Today, April 3, Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-36 (“EO-36”). Under the Governor’s prior “stay home” order, EO 2020-21. Employers were permitted to continue operations in essential industries and under other specified situations, see, Employer Actions to Comply with Michigan Stay-At-Home Order. The original stay home order did not address whether and under what situations employees permitted to work could refuse to report, and what actions employers were permitted to take to require those employees to report.
Today’s EO-36 addresses some of those questions. First, EO-36 prohibits any employer from discharging, disciplining, or retaliating against an employee who is otherwise permitted to work, but who stays home from work because the employee or a person in contact with the employee has symptoms of or tests positive for COVID-19.
The EO also expands on the Governor’s prior “stay home” order (EO 2020-21) by declaring as public policy that any person who has symptoms of the virus or tests positive, or who is exposed to someone symptomatic or positive, should remain at home. We interpret this Order to require an employee of a permissibly-continuing business performing in-person work to stay at home, and that the Employer of such persons will screen to prevent the reporting to work of such persons. Health care, first responder and other groups are exempted meaning that those employees are expected to continue to report to work.
Persons Addressed by EO-36
Key to the scope of this Order are the persons addressed. The Order identifies two groups of persons:
- Positive Tested or Display Symptoms. Persons who themselves “test positive for COVID-19 or who display one or more of the principal symptoms of COVID-19″ are referenced in “Section 2” of the Order. These persons are subject to the longest-duration stay-home requirements.
- Close Contact. Persons who “have had close contact with an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 or with an individual who displays one or more of the principal symptoms of COVID-19″ also are subject to specific stay home conditions.
For the purpose of this article, persons in these groups are here referred to as “Presumed Infectious.” Different and specific “stay home” periods are established for each Presumed Infectious group identified. Note that all key terms used in the Executive Order are defined there.
No Adverse Employment Action Against Presumed Infectious Employees
Presumed Infectious employees otherwise permitted to work who absent themselves to stay home are protected where their health status falls into either of the categories described in the immediately prior section of this article.
A Presumed Infectious protected employee must be treated by the Employer “as if he or she were taking medical leave under the Paid Medical Leave Act” (“PMLA”). Leave used may be debited and may be unpaid if the worker has exhausted paid leave entitlement. Significantly, we conservatively interpret EO-36 to mean that the length of such leave is unlimited by the amount of leave that a protected employee has accrued under the PMLA or any leave provision of the employer’s policy. EO-36 expressly states that the leave right extended to the employee under that Emergency Order “must extend, whether paid or unpaid, as long as the employee remains away from work within the time periods” specifically set forth in the two situations identified above.
Employers are prohibited from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against a protected employee during the period of their protected status. The details of the duration of protected status are set out in Sections 2 and 3 of the Executive Order.
Workers Who are Not Protected Who Fail to Report
EO-36 does not expressly sanction discipline or discharge for employees who are permitted and expected by their Employer to work, but who fail or refuse to report. However, the Executive Order does so indirectly. The EO states:
“Nothing in this [EO-36] shall be taken to prevent an employer from discharging or disciplining an employee (1) Who is allowed to return to work … but declines to do so … or (3) [f]or any other reason that is not unlawful.”
Workers Exempted from Protections of EO-36
The following are expressly exempted from EO-36, with the result that they cannot refuse to report to work even if they meet the criteria set out in the Order:
“(a) Health care professionals.
(b) Workers at a health care facility…
(c) First responders (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, paramedics).
(d) Child protective service employees.
(e) Workers at child caring institutions…
(f) Workers at correctional facilities.”
Specification of Further Stay-at-Home Provisions For Those Possibly or Actually Infected, Including Employer Screening of In-Person Workers
EO-36 expands non-employment provisions of the prior stay home order. Under EO-36, no person who meet the criteria as “Presumed Infectious Persons” (test positive, display symptoms, or were exposed to someone meeting these criteria) should leave their home except to “the extent absolutely necessary to obtain food, medicine, medical care, or supplies that are needed to sustain or protect life” or for permitted recreational purposes. Further, Presumed Infectious persons who elect to leave home “should wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief.”
There is no qualification limiting the scope of this section of EO-36 other than the exempt industry groups identified above. Thus, we conservatively interpret this enhanced stay home directive to mean that Presumed Infectious employees providing in-person services to Employers whose businesses are otherwise permissibly continuing to operate must not report to work. Similarly, while EO-36 does not expressly so provide, we conservatively conclude that Employers who continue to operate must take reasonable measures to screen employees continuing to provide in-person services and bar them from entering the Employer’s premises for any reason.
This alert serves as a general summary, and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.
We have created a response team to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation and the law and guidance that follows, so we will continue to post any new developments. You can view our COVID-19 Response Page and additional resources by following the link here. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.
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 email@example.com.