Order Clarifies Protections for Workers Staying Home with COVID Symptoms

Employees who stay home because they’re sick – or have come in close contact with someone who may be sick – from the coronavirus don’t have to worry about losing their jobs.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday that prevents employers from firing, retaliating or disciplining workers who stay home under those circumstances.

In a release, the governor’s office pointed out her order – Executive Order 2020-172 – comes “at a critical time” when “unemployed and underemployed workers face uncertainty” after the $600 federal pandemic unemployment benefit has expired.

“Every hardworking Michigander should feel empowered to make the responsible choice and stay home if they or someone they have been in contact with is sick,” Whitmer said. “COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families, our frontline workers, and our economy, and it’s crucial that anyone who experiences any of the symptoms of this virus stay home. These protections will help to slow the spread of the virus and save lives, but we still need the federal government to work together in a bipartisan way to expand unemployment benefits and provide support for our workers and their families.” 

The governor’s order clarifies when a worker has the principal symptoms of COVID-19 so that workers who have a known medical or physical condition causing their symptoms need not stay home.  

The governor’s previous order — signed Aug. 7 — called for mandatory leave and expanded symptoms to include a “fever, sore throat, a new uncontrolled cough that causes difficulty breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, new onset of a severe headache and new loss of taste or smell.”

The new one Whitmer’s offers the exemption for cases where the symptoms are explained by a known medical or physical condition.

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Under the new order, employers must treat employees who stay home when they are sick as if he or she were taking medical leave. Any and all Michiganders who test positive for COVID-19 or who display one or more of the principal symptoms should stay home.

The order clarifies those symptoms not explained by a known medical or physical condition: a fever, an uncontrolled cough, and shortness of breath; or at least two of the following: loss of taste or smell, muscle aches (“myalgia”), sore throat, severe headache, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.  

Individuals must remain home until 24 hours have passed since the resolution of fever without medication or 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared or were tested positive. 

Whitmer’s previous order expanded the definition of close contact from “being within approximately six feet of an individual for a prolonged period of time” to “being within six feet of an individual for fifteen minutes.”

As a rule, if an individual has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 or has had close contact with a confirmed positive case they should only leave their home for essential trips, to obtain food, medicine, or medical care. Additionally, they may leave to partake in an outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from others.