Advance Notice: Briefs

State announces work group on reopening offices safely

By: - March 15, 2021 3:20 pm

Detroit | Susan J. Demas

The state has established a new Return-to-Office Workgroup consisting of business, labor and public health experts that is scheduled to meet for the first time on Thursday.

The panel will provide recommendations to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that will be used to inform Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) orders, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA rules) and standards and best practices for employers to use in planning their own phased reopening. The state will also consult state legislators regarding the phased-in return to in-person office work.

MIOSHA’s emergency rules currently require employers to develop policies to determine whether remote work for employees is feasible to help ensure that COVID-19 transmission is mitigated to the maximum extent possible. An extension of the emergency rules is expected, but MIOSHA will soon begin the formal rulemaking process for COVID-19 workplace safety rules for the transition after the pandemic ends.

Earlier this month, eight chambers of commerce, led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, called for an end to business restrictions. Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), have echoed that sentiment.

As reported to DHHS by local public health departments, office workplaces have had 275 outbreaks over the last six months, sixth among all settings. Michigan has had 610,580 COVID cases and 15,783 deaths since the first cases were reported in March 2020.

“Our priority remains the health and safety of Michigan workers and workplaces. Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with employers to provide strategies for safer in-person work and this group is an extension of that collaboration,” said Michigan COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan. “Congregation in any setting creates risk, employers have implemented innovative approaches to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and bringing this new group together will provide a mechanism to capture key insights to align policies with best practices and health guidance.”

Return-to-Office Workgroup members:

  • Kate Birdsall, president, MSU Union of Nontenure-Track Faculty, AFT
  • Tim Carroll, safety specialist, Office of State Employer
  • Susan Corbin, director, LEO
  • Sean Egan, COVID-19 workplace safety director, LEO
  • Rachel Eubanks, state treasurer, Dept. of Treasury
  • Tina Fuller, president, Communication Workers of America, Local 4009
  • Kory Groetsch, environmental public health director, DHHS
  • Elizabeth Hertel, director, DHHS
  • Harry Kemp, senior VP, general counsel and corporate secretary, Lear Corporation
  • Dr. Pranav Kothari, chief of healthcare strategy, Rock Family of Companies
  • Lois Murray, president, AFSCME, Local 2172
  • Hannah Naltner, chief of staff, Steelcase
  • Mayor Andy Schor, City of Lansing
  • Ryan Sebolt, director of government affairs, Michigan AFL-CIO
  • Mike Turnquist, senior deputy director, state facilities administration, DTMB
  • Ryan Weiss, counsel, U.S. operations, regulatory and North America, Dow Chemical Company

“Often, the voice of the employee is lost in conversations about returning to work,” said Fuller. “We’re proud to partner with the state as they prioritize these voices by including them in the advisory group. This structure will ensure that the voice of the worker is present, and influential, as rules are modified and continue to be updated with employee safety and health in mind.”

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.