Mich. Law Gives Employers Immunity From COVID-19 Suits

By Craig Clough
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Law360 (October 22, 2020, 10:58 PM EDT) -- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed bills that allow workers to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms and grant immunity to employers from lawsuits filed by workers or customers who contract the coronavirus so long as they are following federal, state and local safety laws.

One bill Whitmer signed allows employees to stay away from work without repercussions if they test positive for the virus, have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive. Whitmer previously issued an executive order on the issue which was reversed by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The bills were praised by some lawmakers as a bipartisan effort between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"No Michigander should have to worry about going into work when they're sick, especially during a global pandemic," Whitmer said in a news release Thursday, according to the Detroit Free Press. "These bipartisan bills ensure crucial protections for our workers and businesses who do their part to protect our families and front-line workers from the spread of COVID-19. I look forward to more collaboration with the Legislature where we can find common ground."

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce applauded the move.

"Across our state, businesses, nonprofits, child care, academic facilities and the medical community have invested resources, time and energy in complying with public health requirements and operating in a safe manner,"  Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy and member engagement for the Michigan Chamber, said in a statement.

She added, "This legislation is good news for businesses who have made public safety a priority and allows them to proceed with confidence that they will not be the target of an unwarranted lawsuit brought by personal injury lawyers seeking to capitalize on the pandemic."

Other states have created similar laws shielding employers from COVID-19 lawsuits, including Ohio and Idaho. Congress has also been considering similar protections nationwide. In a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package unveiled over the summer that has not been passed into law, GOP lawmakers floated a bill that would erect significant legal barriers for individuals wishing to sue over COVID-19 infections and deaths, requiring plaintiffs to prove both gross negligence and a failure to comply with public health guidelines.

"With these protections, our job providers will have peace of mind that if they act responsibly and invest time and money to follow public health protocols they will be protected from lawsuits related to this pandemic," Michigan state Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, said in a statement. "Workers will have the peace of mind that they will not be punished for following public health protocols. Our health care heroes on the front lines have reassurance so they can focus on providing the best care possible to patients without worrying about COVID-19 lawsuits."

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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