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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan House employee files workplace safety case over COVID in Capitol

LANSING—State authorities are investigating a COVID-19 workplace safety complaint in the Michigan House of Representatives, where Republican leaders have rejected Democratic calls to allow remote voting and mandate face masks in the Michigan Capitol and committee rooms. 

Details are not known, but the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration “has initiated an investigation based on an employee complaint from the Michigan House of Representatives,” spokesperson Camara Lewis told Bridge Michigan. “MIOSHA cannot provide information on an open investigation.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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MIOSHA is a government agency that regulates workplace safety and last week cited nine Michigan businesses with COVID-19 "general duty" infractions, alleging the companies failed to provide a workplace free from known hazards that can or have caused death or serious harm. 

Those alleged violations included a lack of health screenings, face coverings, employee training, cleaning measures and overall preparedness plans. The businesses face fines of up to $7,000 if the claims are substantiated, but it’s not clear whether a state agency also would have authority to fine the Michigan House. 

Confirmation of the House workplace safety investigation comes six days after Rudy Giuliani, president Donald Trump’s personal attorney who is contesting Michigan election results, testified before the Oversight Committee for more than four hours without wearing a face mask, which are recommended by not required by GOP leaders. 

Giuliani was hospitalized for COVID-19 on Sunday, and it’s “extremely likely” he was contagious when he testified in Michigan on Wednesday, according to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. She recommended those exposed to Giuliani quarantine through Dec. 12.

In the hearing, Giuliani sat next to Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, who also was maskless and has subsequently told associates she also tested positive for COVID-19, according to Axios. Giuliani also leaned close to several witnesses during the hearing. Some Republican lawmakers and members of the public in attendance also did not wear masks.

Chatfield, R-Levering, canceled planned floor votes on Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution” as legislators awaited COVID test results, but he made clear he intends to resume voting on Wednesday and Thursday as the legislature’s lame-duck session nears an end. 

As Bridge Michigan reported Monday, Democrats have spent months urging Chatfield to implement tougher workplace safety protocols for COVID-19. He has also refused to disclose the total number of legislators and staff who have contracted the virus.

House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said Monday that her office did not file a MIOSHA complaint after threatening to do so in October because of what she called weak workplace safety rules for COVID and firearms at the Michigan Capitol, where activists carried long guns inside during a summer protest over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions.

"We wanted to continue to work with this speaker, but I gotta tell you, that's been on my mind again this week,” Greig said then of her consideration of a MIOSHA complaint. 

Greig, who has renewed her call to allow remote voting by lawmakers, said Monday she was urging Chatfield to cancel the session Wednesday to allow more time for the House to learn about when Giuliani contracted the virus and would have been contagious. 

She also urged Chatfield to employ "rule 32" during any upcoming House sessions, which would require all legislators to remain in their seats during floor votes so they could not "wander" throughout the chamber. 

"The [House] sergeants are not empowered to enforce members wearing masks, and the Speaker and [Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey] don't seem to be interested in a mask mandate," Greig said. "So there's just a lot of concern over having session this week, particularly on Wednesday before we have all the data from the Giuliani camp."

Under emergency MIOSHA rules for COVID-19, employers are required to mandate face coverings and screen employees before work, which does not appear to happen regularly at the Michigan Capitol. 

A previous Legislature, in a 1975 law, declared that “all employees shall be provided safe and healthful work environments free of recognized hazards.”

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