by: Ryan J. Stevens
In Michigan, lawmakers recently passed a package of legislation to address various COVID-19 policies, including those related to extending unemployment benefits and addressing COVID-19 liability.
Unemployment Benefit Extension
Senate Bill 0886 amends the Michigan Employment Security Act to add several provisions regarding COVID-related unemployment benefits. The bill essentially codifies and makes law Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-76. Currently, someone eligible for unemployment benefits in Michigan may receive benefits for no more than 20 weeks or less than 14 weeks in a benefit year. Under Senate Bill 0886, an eligible person filing an initial claim due to COVID-19 could receive benefits for no more than 26 weeks or less than 14 weeks in a benefit year.
The bill also provides that individuals must be considered to have left work involuntarily for medical reasons if they leave work for any of the below reasons, until December 31, 2020. Further, the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) could consider an individual to be laid off if they became unemployed for the following reasons:
- They are immuno-compromised and are self-isolating or self-quarantining due to their elevated risk from COVID-19;
- They have displayed symptoms of COVID-19 not otherwise associated with a known medical or physical condition of the individual;
- They have had contact in the last 14 days with someone who tested positive for COVID-19;
- They need to care for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19; or
- They have a family care responsibility because of a government directive.
Governor Whitmer signed Senate Bill 0886 on October 20 and called on GOP state lawmakers to make these changes permanent, noting that 40 states automatically provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, not 20. Whitmer also noted that since March 15, the state had paid over $25 billion in benefits to 2.2 million workers.
COVID-19 Liability Legislation
The following pieces of legislation all passed the Michigan House and Senate and are currently awaiting further action by Governor Whitmer.
House Bill 6159 would create the “Pandemic Health Care Immunity Act.” Under the bill, a health care provider or health care facility that provides health care services to support Michigan’s COVID-19 response is not liable for an injury or death sustained by someone by reasons of those services, regardless of how, under which circumstances, or by what cause those injuries are sustained. The exception would be if the services constituted willful misconduct, gross negligence, intentional and willful criminal misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm by the health care provider or facility. Further, the bill would not apply to claims covered by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act and would be retroactive, applying on or after March 29, 2020, and before July 14, 2020.
House Bill 6030 would enact the “COVID-19 Response and Reopening Liability Assurance Act.” The bill states that a person who acts in compliance with all federal, state, and local statutes, rules, regulations, executive orders, and agency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic that had not been denied legal effect at the time of the conduct or risk which allegedly caused harm, is immune from liability for a COVID-19 claim.
House Bill 6031 would provide that an employer is not liable for an employee’s exposure to COVID-19 if the employer operated in compliance with all the federal, state, and local statutes, rules, and regulations, executive orders, and agency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic that had not been denied legal effect at the time of the exposure.
House Bill 6032 would prohibit an employee who tests positive for COVID-19, or displays symptoms of COVID-19 shall not report to work until the below conditions are met:
- If the employee has a fever, 24 hours must pass since the fever has stopped without using fever-reducing medicines.
- Ten days have passed since the date the employee’s symptoms first appear or the date they received their positive COVID-19 test, whichever is later.
- The employee’s principal symptoms of COVID-19 have improved.
Further, if an employee has had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or with someone who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, they must not report to work until one of the below conditions are met. These conditions do not apply to health care professionals, workers at health care facilities, first responders, child protective service employees, workers at a child-caring institution, workers at an adult foster care facility, and workers at a correctional facility.
- Fourteen days have passed since they had contact with that individual.
- The person that the employee was in close contact with was determined not to have COVID-19 at the contact time.
The bill also prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or retaliating against an employee who complied with all of the above conditions or opposed a bill violation. However, employers would be allowed to discharge or discipline an employee if they were not prohibited from reporting to work but did not do so. If aggrieved by a violation of the new law, employees would also be allowed to bring a civil action for appropriate injunctive relief or damages, or both, in the circuit court where the alleged violation occurred or where the employer is located or has its principal place of business. Damages of no less than $5,000 will be awarded to a plaintiff who prevails in their action under the new law.
House Bill 6101 also addresses liability, amending the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act by defining “COVID-19” and does not take effect unless House Bills 6030, 6031, and 6032 are enacted into law.