Michigan Enacts COVID-19 Employer Liability, Employee Leave Usage Protections

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 3, 2020

Michigan has enacted a package of laws that provide COVID-19-related protections to employers and employees. The laws grant liability immunity to employers against COVID-19 exposure claims and retaliation protection to employees who take required leaved due to contracting COVID-19 or for exposure or possible exposure to the coronavirus.

Employer Liability Protection

The COVID-19 Response and Reopening Liability Assurance Act (HB 6030) provides employers with immunity from liability for a COVID-19 claim - defined as a claim or cause of action for damages, losses, indemnification contribution or other relief related to exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19 or to conduct that was intended to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

In addition, HB 6031 amends the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA) to shield employers from liability for a MIOSHA complaint due to an employee's exposure to COVID-19.

To qualify for protection under either law, an employer must have complied with all federal, state and local statutes, regulations and executive or agency orders related to COVID-19. The laws apply retroactively to any claim or cause of action that accrued after March 1, 2020.

Both laws also provide a safe harbor for an "isolated, de minimis deviation from strict compliance" with COVID-19 requirements that are not related to an employee's injuries.

Employee Retaliation Protection

Another new law extends protections to employees who absent themselves from work in compliance with Michigan's COVID-19 isolation or quarantine leave requirements. Under HB 6032, employers are prohibited from discharging, disciplining or otherwise retaliating against an employee who does not report to work because they:

  • Have tested positive for COVID-19 or are exhibiting principal symptoms of COVID-19 (even if the employee later tests negative); or
  • Had close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 or displays the principal symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, the protections against retaliatory actions extend to employees who:

  • Report health violations related to COVID-19; or
  • Otherwise oppose a violation of the new law.

However, the law does not protect an employee who displays the principal symptoms of COVID-19 and fails to make reasonable efforts to schedule a COVID-19 test within three days after receiving a request from their employer to get testing. As with the employer protections, these employee protections also apply retroactively to March 1, 2020.

An employee alleging a violation of the law may file a lawsuit against their employer for appropriate injunctive relief, damages or both. The minimum amount of damages that may be awarded is $5,000.