Extending 6-month office ban would be bad for Michigan, say business leaders

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Michigan businesses are still not allowed to spend their days in the office if their work can be done remotely, and some fear the ban will be extended.

The six-month ban expires on April 14, and state law allows Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to once again extend emergency rule set – up to six months.

A group of Michigan business organizations announced Thursday, March 4 a new campaign to end the ban, titled “Safely Reopen Michigan.”

“The zoom is great, but it just doesn’t replace the need to work in person in complex situations,” said Veronica Horn, president and CEO of the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce. “I think we’ve all learned that it’s hard to innovate and collaborate from our kitchen tables.

Business groups want Michigan to leave office return decisions in the hands of employers and employees.

“Trust businesses and employees to follow security protocols,” Horn said.

MIOSHA cited 126 companies of all types for failing to follow COVID-19 protocols during the pandemic, although the agency said more than 95% of inspections did not lead to citations.

RELATED: Michigan fines state prison, hospital, 19 more for COVID-19 violations

Campaign business leaders say office spaces are among the most secure and low-risk environments. Through the state, the offices have contributed to 22 COVID-19 outbreaks that are currently underway. This is more outbreaks than in retail stores and restaurants, but much less than in schools and manufacturing / construction spaces.

Remote working is helpful in slowing the spread of COVID-19 by reducing face-to-face contact, Sean Egan, Michigan COVID-19 director of workplace safety, said in a statement.

“MIOSHA’s emergency rules do not prohibit face-to-face work,” Egan said. “Rather, they require employers to determine whether remote working for employees is feasible to help ensure that the transmission of COVID-19 is mitigated to the greatest extent possible.”

The leaders want the reopening of the offices for several reasons.

Downtown businesses that depend on foot traffic from office workers have suffered during the pandemic. Cities that collect local income taxes lose millions because taxpayers don’t have to pay as much if they work from home and live outside of city limits.

“Our downtown business districts depend on the patronage of thousands of office workers who work in our downtown areas every day,” said Tim Daman, President and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce , in a press release. “Without them, city buildings and parking lots remain deserted and restaurants, cafes and shops remain closed or on the verge of bankruptcy. “

For other companies, the requirement of remote working “stifles innovation and hinders the development of new products,” said Scott Ryan, vice president of Gentex – an automotive technology provider in Zealand.

Extending the office ban would be “devastating” to his business and many others, Ryan said.

Michigan should also clarify its remote work mandate, Ryan said. According to the rule, employers must require remote work if this work “can be done remotely”.

There is no indication of how “feasible” is defined.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced this week that she is setting up a task force to decide how best to rehire office workers.

Grand Rapids Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker questions “the authenticity of why it was created.” Other business leaders said it was a bit late to start the conversation.

“If the business community really has a voice in this plan, then that’s great,” Baker said. “Let’s celebrate this, get involved and help develop a strategy. “

The following chambers and business groups are part of the Reopen Michigan Safely campaign.

  • Michigan Chamber of Commerce
  • Grand Rapids Region Chamber of Commerce
  • Bushing connection
  • Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce
  • Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce
  • Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce
  • South Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

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