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Published in Economic Development

Businesses urged to maintain safety guidelines to avoid liability after court ruling

BY Monday, October 05, 2020 04:50pm

Update: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon issued an emergency order under the state Public Health Code late Monday afternoon restricting gathering sizes, requiring mask-wearing and limiting capacity at restaurants and venues.

County health departments and business groups are still evaluating the potentially far-reaching legal effects of a Michigan Supreme Court opinion Friday, but a continued focus on stemming the public health crisis and keeping workplaces safe remains.

SBAM CEO Rob Fowler COURTESY PHOTO

By Monday afternoon, the health departments in Ottawa and Kent counties each said the Michigan Public Health Code remains in effect and allows for countywide orders involving isolation and quarantine. Public health departments in southeastern and mid-Michigan have also issued orders involving mask-wearing and capacity restrictions in venues and restaurants.

“Actions such as orders for isolation and quarantine are not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Kent County Health Director Adam London said in a statement, referring to the 1978 Public Health Code. “The KCHD will continue to use public health orders and enforcement actions as appropriate under law as this agency has done for many decades.”

London also said the department is “communicating closely” with state officials and other local health departments to “identify pathways forward which respect rule of law and are protective of the health and safety of our communities.”

On Monday afternoon, the Small Business Association of Michigan held its second virtual briefing following the Oct. 2 Michigan Supreme Court opinion that a 1945 law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has used to issue executive orders since April 30 is unconstitutional.

SBAM CEO Rob Fowler said amid the legal uncertainty still unfolding, it’s “good business to keep your employees and customers safe” and that “really good reasons” remain for continuing workplace safety measures.

“Maybe compliance is less of the driver and now best practice becomes the driver,” Fowler said during the briefing.

Fowler and SBAM President Brian Calley also said employer liability becomes a key question moving forward. Calley said the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act still requires employers to keep workers safe from recognized hazards.

“That’s our recommendation at this point: Don’t just throw all the rules out the window,” Calley said. “That’s likely to increase risk in a lot of ways that aren’t good. Don’t just drop it and do nothing — I think that does put you at risk.”

Attorneys at Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone issued similar guidance on Monday saying businesses and employers “continue to have legal obligations to provide a safe environment for employees, customers and visitors. Otherwise they might be found legally negligent and liable.”

While some states have passed legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide limited immunity involving potential lawsuits, Michigan has not.

“Accordingly, safety policies, practices and procedures in accordance with public health guidance and local orders and ordinances, should continue to be implemented and followed to limit the exposure of COVID-19 in the workplaces and on the business premises,” according to the Miller Canfield guidance.

Read 1764 times Last modified on Monday, 05 October 2020 17:08
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