By Samuel Dodge, mlive.com // October 22, 2020
LANSING, MI – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed a slew of bills that replace her recently rescinded COVID-19 executive orders, including a package defining liability in lawsuits.
The package outlines liability for businesses, employees and consumers when an individual is exposed to COVID-19. The Republican-sponsored bills provide protections for businesses except in cases of gross negligence in maintaining health standards. They also protect employees from adverse firings for refusing to violate health orders by guaranteeing damages for wrongful termination.
Whitmer signed the package on Thursday, Oct. 22, about a week after the state legislature came to an agreement with her office after midnight on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
“No Michigander should have to worry about going into work when they’re sick, especially during a global pandemic,” Whitmer said in a release. “These bipartisan bills ensure crucial protections for our workers and businesses who do their part to protect our families and frontline workers from the spread of COVID-19. I look forward to more collaboration with the legislature where we can find common ground.”
Whitmer signed House bills 6030-6032, as well as 6159. These bills would replace many of the provisions in Executive Orders 2020-36 and 2020-175, which were rescinded when the Michigan Supreme Court stripped Whitmer of her emergency powers earlier in October.
Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, is one of the package’s co-sponsors, and credited bipartisan negotiations with providing comprehensive liability protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
″With these protections, our job providers will have peace of mind that if they act responsibly and invest time and money to follow public health protocols they will be protected from lawsuits related to this pandemic,” he said in a statement. “Workers will have the peace of mind that they will not be punished for following public health protocols. Our healthcare heroes on the front lines have reassurance so they can focus on providing the best care possible to patients without worrying about COVID-19 lawsuits.”
House Bill 6030, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, creates the COVID-19 Response and Reopening Liability Assurance Act. It establishes hospitalization as a minimum threshold for suing a business when a worker is exposed to the virus.
The minimum threshold, defined as the minimum medical condition in the bill, refers to:
- Hospitalization after a positive test of COVID-19 for at least 24 hours
- A coronavirus-related condition that restricts someone from working for at least 14 days (not including a 14-day quarantine after a positive test)
The bill also protects businesses developing off-brand PPE and other medical equipment, devices or treatment to combat the virus. Liability would kick in if there were “substantial evidence” the business knew its product was “defective” and contributed to health damage.
The bill does not open any specific civil action by itself, affect rights outlined in the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act nor affect civil immunity or liability of any other kind outside COVID-19 exposure.
House Bill 6031, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, does not hold businesses following public health guidelines liable if an employee contracted COVID-19, unless the employer “willfully exposed” the person to the virus. It was previously combined with House Bill 6101, sponsored by Rep. Wendell Byrd, D-Detroit, which has yet to be signed by Whitmer.
“Willful” means intentional dismissal or indifference to standards set by the Michigan Operational Health and Safety Administration, Center of Disease Control and Prevention, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services or local health departments, according to the bill.
House Bill 6032, sponsored by Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, does hold employees liable for showing up to work with symptoms or a positive case of COVID-19 or after close contact with a COVID-positive patient. It also bans businesses from firing an employee for complaining about violating public health protocols and guarantees damages for an adverse firing.
An employee would need to be without a fever for 24 hours before being sent to work. They also would not be allowed to show up for work until 10 days after testing positive.
Should the employee be in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, they need to isolate for 14 days or test negative to return to work, under the bill. This prohibition doesn’t apply to health care workers, first responders, adult or child-care employees or correctional facility staff.
An employee protesting an adverse firing could file in circuit court and could be awarded at least $5,000 in damages. If a collective bargaining agreement does not comply with these standards, the liability standards would apply once a union renegotiates or ends its existing agreement.
House Bill 6159, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hauck, R-Union Twp., does not hold workers liable for injuries to patients under their care, except in instances of gross negligence.
Whitmer signed two more bills that replace her executive orders. House Bill 6192, sponsored by Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, extends the validity of driver’s licenses, state identification cards and certain vehicle registrations to Dec. 11, 2020. It replaces Executive Order 2020-78, which extended them to Sep. 30.
She also approved Senate Bill 1094, sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Twp, which bans most transfers of patients with a positive case of COVID-19 into nursing homes. This addresses a specific provision in Executive Order 2020-169, which allowed for COVID-19 patients to enter nursing homes capable of housing them in dedicated and isolated containment wings.
In addition, the bill charges the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs with evaluating nursing homes for their effectiveness at preventing COVID-19 spread. It also requires the apartments to submit a plan to the state legislature on implementing care and recovery centers specifically aimed just for COVID-19 patients.
The report and implementation plans are due to House and Senate by Nov. 15.