Detroit Regional Chamber > Gov. Whitmer Wants to Begin ‘Reengagement’ of Office Workers in Coming Weeks

Gov. Whitmer Wants to Begin ‘Reengagement’ of Office Workers in Coming Weeks

March 9, 2021
Originally published in The Detroit News.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday said she hopes to begin bringing workers back into office spaces in the coming weeks, potentially ahead of the April 14 expiration of an emergency rule that banned in-office work where it was feasible to do the work from home.

Whitmer told WJR’s Paul W. Smith that she’d like to start reengaging those Michigan workers and businesses before mid-April.

She described the return-to-office plan as “incremental” and said she was working with business leaders, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on a strategy to make it possible.

“It is my hope, if our positivity numbers stay low where they are and our vaccination rates are high where they are, that we will be able to do that in the coming weeks,” Whitmer said.

Her comments come four days after business chambers and leaders launched a coalition, Reopen Michigan Safely, calling on the Governor to ease in-person work restrictions on offices across Michigan so long as safety measures were in place. The state said at that time it was “very likely” the rules would be extended past April 14 while the agency creates a permanent return-to-work plan.

The coalition said Monday it was “encouraged” that the Governor appeared to be listening to businesses and argued the businesses themselves should be trusted to develop their own plans to safely return.

“We look forward to seeing the details on how we can work together but our jobs, downtowns and cities are hanging in the balance each day that goes by without a plan,” said John Sellek, a spokesman for the coalition.

MIOSHA has argued that, even under the current emergency rules, more businesses could bring back employees where it’s infeasible for them to work from home. But businesses have expressed confusion over the strictness of the work-from-home order and how it interacts with a separate Department of Health and Human Services ban on nonessential in-office work that can be done from home.

The actual language of the MIOSHA emergency rule requires an employer to “create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely. …”

“They require employers to determine whether remote work for employees is feasible to help ensure that COVID-19 transmission is mitigated to the maximum extent possible,” Sean Egan, director of Michigan COVID-19 workplace safety for the agency, said last week.