With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have rightly begun questioning their safety in the workplace. Whether you were on duty at the outset prior to Governor Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order (EO 2020-21) or an essential employee who is still working to this very day, you have the right to a safe and sanitary workplace. Several laws have been passed that protect your right to report such issues in the workplace without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
Under Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must observe universal precautions to prevent employees from coming into contact with potentially infectious materials. R 325.70005. Employers are required to provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost to the employee, such as gloves, gowns, masks, and, in some cases, ventilators. MCL 408.1011; R 325.70008. Employers must ensure that PPE is being properly used and removed before leaving the work area and placed in the appropriately designated area or container for storage, washing, decontamination, or disposal. R 325.70007. PPE is only appropriate if it does not permit potentially infectious material to pass through to reach the employee’s clothing or skin. These are just a few of the protections afforded employees who may come into contact with COVID-19. You can file a complaint online, download and mail/fax to MIOSHA at the address below, or call MIOSHA at 800-866-4674:
P.O. Box 30645
Lansing, MI 48909-8144
Fax: (517) 284-775
Under MIOSHA, it is illegal for an employer to discharge or discriminate against an employee in retaliation for filing a complaint, participating in an inspection or investigation, instituting a proceeding, testifying at a proceeding, or exercising a right concerning occupational safety and health. MCL 408.1065. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for refusing to work when placed in a situation of imminent danger that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm. If you believe that you have been retaliated against for reporting a safety issue in the workplace, you should file a discrimination complaint as soon as possibility with MIOSHA because you only have 30 days from the retaliatory act to file. You can file a discrimination complaint by download the complaint form and mail/fax the completed form to the address below or by calling 313-456-3109:
Employee Discrimination Section
3026 W. Grand Blvd. Ste. 9-450
Detroit, MI 48202
Fax: (313) 456-4226
You also have similar rights under federal law, but must file a complaint within 30 days similar to MIOSHA. You can file a whistleblower complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration online, via fax/mail, or in person or over the telephone at the following address:
Lansing State Plan Office
530 W. Allegan Street P.O. Box 30643
Lansing, MI 48909-8143
Fax: (517) 284-7725
Employees are also protected under Michigan’s Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), MCL 15.361 et seq.. Under the WPA, any person who employs more than one employee may not discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate against their employees for reporting or being about to report a suspected violation of law, regulation, or rule to a public body. Similarly, employees are also protected if they are requested to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry by a public body or in a court action. A public body includes, among others, state or local officers, employees, councils, agencies, and departments or a federal law enforcement agency. This includes MIOSHA. An employee who believes their rights have been violated under the WPA only has 90 days to bring a lawsuit though, so contact an attorney as soon as possible. If successful, the employee is entitled to back wages, front wages or reinstatement, fringe benefits and any lost seniority rights, emotional distress, pain and suffering, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
Finally, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), both unionized and non-unionized employees have the right to engage in concerted activity to improve safety conditions in the workplace. If two or more employees plan and coordinate their actions together to advocate for better safety policies on behalf of their fellow employees, an employer may not discipline or discriminate against them for doing so. If discipline is taken, you have six months from the discriminatory act to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. You can file an unfair labor charge electronically, but before you do, seek the advice of a labor lawyer for advice specific to your situation.
These are just some of the laws that protect employees during these troubling times. For all of these claims, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible, even before making a report. Please call our office for a free consultation at 313-964-4454.