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The Rebound West Michigan: COVID guidelines for employers and employees returning to work

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Posted at 7:00 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 08:34:16-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As Michiganders head back to work, thousands will notice their job sites look a lot different.

Temperature stations, mandatory masks, and social distancing are all required under an executive order signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Business, employees and lawyers all agree this is going to be a learning curve for everyone. We're in uncharted territory and there are going to be a lot of questions to be worked out.

FAMILY FEARS

“The fears of, you know, am I gonna go to work and just get it on me and bring it in on my clothes and have her catch it," said Forrest Hulliberger who's worried about COVID-19 exposure.

He works for a polishing company and when he's not in the warehouse he's out driving truck.

“But I’m going to so many different facilities, you know, I’m having a lot of contact with people," he said.

But Forrest is not so much worried about himself. It's his wife Eileen. The two met in elementary school and have been married now for 39 years.

“It’s the fear of going back too early and then maybe causing her to pass or something from a disease that she’s not even fighting right now," he said.

Eileen is going through chemotherapy and is currently fighting stage four breast cancer.

“When I’m out I wear gloves, I wear a mask, I go out, I come home throw my clothes in the laundry and sanitize," she said. "But yea I'm scared also."

A lot of families are scared just like the Hullibergers; wondering if they'll bring home a deadly virus while caring for someone with a compromised immune system.

RESPONSIBILITY OF MANUFACTURERS

“That’s gonna be an evolving issue. This is the first time we’ve had to confront it in such a dramatic way," said John Walsh, President and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

The organization supports nearly 1,800 members across the state. Some of their workers have already told FOX 17 that they're scared to go back.

"Those issues are gonna be have to be worked out over time," said Walsh. "They can’t all be defined from the get-go. Getting back to the point I made about the importance of talent - it’s gonna be in the employers best interest to work closely with their employees to make sure that they’re comfortable when they return to work.”

To make sure they're comfortable, the MMA put out this document that includes pre-screening recommendations, social distancing, hygiene and disinfection, personal protective equipment and communication.

“There’s no shortage of communication," said Walsh. "Let your employees know when you’re going to open, what you hope they’ll be prepared to do, what you intend in terms of pre-screening and social distancing, the rules, personnel policy moving forward; emails, Zoom phone calls, pamphlets at the workspace; every way possible to get the word out.”

EXECUTIVE ORDER

Under a recent executive order signed by Governor Whitmer, facilities must conduct daily entry screenings which include questionnaires and possible temperature checks, dedicated entry points, and suspend non-essential visits including tours.

They also need to train workers on COVID transmission, teaching them the signs and symptoms of the virus, how to report if they test positive, and how to use PPE.

Employers have to require face masks when workers cannot social distance and also consider face shields for similar situations.

Businesses have to disinfect high-touch surfaces like parts, products and shared equipment.

An executive order also states that employers cannot punish workers who have to stay home because they're sick or taking care of someone who's sick.

Companies are also required to send people home if they've potentially been exposed to someone who's tested positive in the facility.

LOCAL MANUFACTURERS

Steelcase has already had to send people home because of temperature checks.

The global furniture manufacturer has more than 1,700 employees in Grand Rapids.

Some of them have a harder time when it comes to social distancing.

“And when we can’t achieve it at all, we’re doing face shields and masks and we’re asking all employees in manufacturing to wear masks wall to wall when they come in the facility," said Tim Martin, Global Health and Safety Manager for Steelcase.

He told FOX 17 the company has been proactive as an essential business by trying to minimize things that people have to touch.

It's already removed some doors and set up stations to make sure people don't have a fever.

“We’ve set a temperature of 100° F," said Martin. "If you’re above that or near it we’re asking you to go home. We've also partnered with Spectrum Health they have a COVID-19 symptom checker. And we’re asking employees to use that symptom checker before they even come to work and if they answer yes to any of those questions we ask them to inform leadership or HR and just stay home.”

LABOR LAWS

If you're scared of returning to work, but there's a job waiting for you, there are several things to consider.

In most circumstances you'll need to report to work or possibly lose your job unless you have a covered excuse under the law.

“If they’re recalled and decline to return they essentially will no longer be eligible for unemployment unless they have a good reason," said attorney Elizabeth Welch.

Basically you cannot just be afraid of the virus and not return.

Under new federal guidelines, workers have an extra 80 hours of sick leave on top of what their employers already provide.

There are exceptions so double-check the rules in the link above if you're curious about extra sick leave.

“Because they’re starting to find they can provide it and employees are educating too they’re saying ‘wait I thought I got paid sick leave’," said Welch. "The Department of Labor has started enforcing this just last week they’ve come down on some employers who didn’t provide the leave.”

It will no doubt be a learning curve for everyone. People are ready to get back to work and normal life. Even if they're a little scared like Forrest Hulliberger.

“Oh yes, I love my job, I love the people I work with," said Hulliberger. "I definitely want to go back to work, but I don’t want to risk my wife’s life to do it.”

FILING COMPLAINTS

Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity says it's "committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect the health of Michigan citizens from COVID-19 by helping ensure compliance with the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order, Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and other public health directives.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) remains diligent in protecting the health and safety of Critical Infrastructure Workers during the pandemic."

If you feel like your employer is failing to take the proper precautions in the workplace to protect you to exposure to COVID-19, you can file a confidential complaint online.

SMALL BUSINESSES

The Small Business Association of Michigan recently put together the Get Back to Work Safely Guide which includes tips and resources for small businesses including revising employee policies and employee handbooks, as well as talking with employees about new expectations. The guide also provides checklists on cleaning and health screenings as well as other considerations small businesses may need to take on in their facilities.

When it comes to keeping employees safe, SBAM put together a list of resources where members can find hand sanitizer, masks, barriers, gloves, face shields, gowns and shoe coverings and workplace safety posters.

There will no doubt be a lot of questions from workers and employers as they head back.

That's why the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or MIOSHA, created a new hotline.

You can call 855-SAFEC-19 (855)-723-3219.

OSHA GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS

Dental Industry Practitioners

Rideshare, Taxi and Car Service Workers

Retail Pharmacy Workers

Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facility Workers

If you have any specific legal questions about your employer, it's best to ask them first, and if you're not getting an answer you like, contact an attorney.