Whitmer agency seeking to make COVID-19 workplace rules permanent

Whitmer agency seeking to make COVID-19 workplace rules permanent

Rule changes being considered by one state agency would keep many of the pandemic safety measures in place indefinitely – including mask requirements in retail stores, theaters, sports facilities, and more.

Temporary COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan workplaces could become permanent under sweeping new regulations proposed by a state safety and health agency.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or MIOSHA, is planning to move forward to make permanent several COVID-19 workplace rules. Among these rules is a permanent mask mandate, requiring both employees and customers alike to wear face masks.

MIOSHA workplace COVID-19 rules were extended again on an emergency basis and will continue to stay in place until October. However, MIOSHA will no longer have the authority to extend their emergency order afterwards.

To circumvent this, MIOSHA is pushing to put permanent restrictions on the books.

The proposed permanent MIOSHA rules will be subject to a public hearing May 26 at 9:00 a.m.

The following are several examples of MIOSHA restrictions that the agency is seeking to extend on a permanent basis, without regard for science, metrics or the status of COVID-19:

  • Retail stores must require patrons to wear a face covering and install physical barriers at checkout points.
  • Employers must conduct “health surveillance,” including daily health screening for all employees and contractors.
  • Restaurants and bars must require 6 feet of separation between parties until the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services decides otherwise. Patrons must wear masks except when seated.
  • All businesses must promote remote work policies for employees, despite the pandemic destroying many business’ ability to conduct in-person work for months.
  • Masks are required for all sports and entertainment facilities, theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, etc. Masks as required in gyms and fitness centers unless the patron is swimming.
  • All employees are required to wear face coverings at all times if they cannot maintain social distancing guidelines.
  • Employers must maintain records of employee health screenings.

Pushing back on MIOSHA’s permanent rules, business leaders have expressed frustration with the process and disappointment at the attempt to make these restrictions permanent.

“The permanent COVID-19 workplace safety rules MIOSHA is pursuing keeps government’s thumb on decisions best left in the workplace between employers and employees,” said Wendy Block of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “This one-size-fits all rule set does not account for vaccine rollout and herd immunity and does nothing to help businesses or our economy move forward.”

“The Committee debated numerous proposals to follow the science and CDC guidelines, but the proposed changes were rejected because of a lack of ‘consensus,’” added Scott Ellis, Executive Director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. “This process did not reflect reasonable discussion or decision making.”

Business leaders are also worried that permanent restrictions will put a damper on the state’s economy, which has suffered among the worst job losses in the country. “If the agency proceeds with these rules as written, they will further damage Michigan’s business climate,” Ellis continued.

Michigan employers and employees should continue making decisions in the best interest of workers’ safety. But broad, permanent new restrictions from an unelected state agency set a dangerous precedent.

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