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Published in Economic Development

State lawmakers pass COVID-19 liability protections for employers

BY Wednesday, October 14, 2020 12:09pm

LANSING — State lawmakers passed legislation early Wednesday morning that would grant liability protections to employers during the COVD-19 pandemic.

The legislation sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would protect employers from liability lawsuits resulting from a COVID-19 exposure as long as they follow state and federal public health regulations and guidelines. The legislation extends the protections retroactively to Jan. 1, 2020.

Business groups in Lansing have pushed hard for the liability protections during the pandemic.

“Across our state, businesses, nonprofits, child care, academic facilities and the medical community have invested resources, time and energy in complying with public health requirements and operating in a safe manner,” the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. “This legislation is good news for entities that have made these investments and allows them to proceed with confidence that they will not be the target of an unwarranted lawsuit brought by personal injury lawyers seeking to capitalize on the pandemic.”

Another bill passed by lawmakers in an overnight session that’s tied to liability protections would codify an executive order by prohibiting employees who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms from going to work until certain conditions are met. The bill would also prohibit employers from “discharging, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against an employee who complied with the return-to-work conditions,” according to a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.

Legislators also sent Whitmer a bill that codifies an executive order — which was subsequently struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court — preventing the state from charging employers for unemployment insurance claims resulting from COVID-19 layoffs. The bill also extends unemployment benefits for laid-off workers to 26 weeks from 20 weeks.

“According to our latest research survey, one-in-five small businesses anticipate having to lay off employees in the next six months, so it is critical that the Unemployment Insurance protections on their accounts are restored and the threat of groundless lawsuits are addressed,” Amanda Fisher, assistant director of the Michigan office of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said in a statement.

The bills involving liability protections and unemployment benefits were originally tie-barred, which drew opposition from Whitmer and other Democrats. The two sides reportedly negotiated a deal to pass the legislation separately. 

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