Business leaders to Whitmer: It’s time to let employees work in offices again

Desy Papper

Six of Michigan’s largest business organizations have signed onto a letter asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to allow workers to return to office settings. While the latest state health order doesn’t mention offices in its list of restrictions, emergency rules from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration require office employees […]

Six of Michigan’s largest business organizations have signed onto a letter asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to allow workers to return to office settings.

While the latest state health order doesn’t mention offices in its list of restrictions, emergency rules from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration require office employees to work from home whenever their work can be done remotely.

The Oct. 14 MIOSHA rules are in place through April 14. The Feb. 19 letter to Whitmer asks her to reconsider the mandate and “allow employees to return safely to the office.”

These six organizations signed onto the letter:

  • Grand Rapids Chamber
  • Detroit Regional Chamber
  • Small Business Association of Michigan
  • Michigan Chamber of Commerce
  • Michigan Manufacturers Association
  • Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce

“From Grand Rapids to Lansing and Detroit, empty office buildings have a damaging impact not only on productivity, innovation, collaboration and mental health, but also has put an incredible strain on our communities,” the letter says.

Some downtown businesses rely on business from office workers – including restaurants and shops. Many are suffering while most office workers are kept home.

Cities charging local income tax are also suffering, since non-residents working from home don’t have to pay as much tax since they’re technically working in a different city. Grand Rapids is projecting a $10 million to $20 million revenue hit this year because of it.

Health officials say offices are less risky for COVID-19 spread than many currently-open places in Michigan, like movie theaters, casinos, schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and churches.

Offices can mandate masks, clean thoroughly, do daily health checks and require social distancing to help prevent virus spread, the letter says.

Michigan is averaging 845 new COVID-19 cases per day, down from its peak of around 7,300 per day in late November. New COVID-19 deaths per day is also at its lowest point in Michigan since early November.

The governor’s office said in a statement that state leaders will continue to review the data and update state restrictions accordingly.

“While we always welcome feedback from stakeholders, the health and safety of Michigan residents is our top priority … We are all anxious to return to life as normal, and that’s why our administration is laser-focused on passing COVID-19 relief to ramp up vaccine distribution and testing, support small businesses, and get kids back in school,” the statement from the governor’s office said.

When will most employees return to in-person work?

A survey from Business Leaders for Michigan shows most executives believe their staff will return to work in the third quarter of 2020. Still, most employers expect to have more than 10% of their workforce to stay working remotely.

“Michigan’s large employers are planning a return to in-person work,” said Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of the organization, in a news release. “However, many are still evaluating remote work operations for some employees.”

Business Leaders for Michigan conducted the internal member survey in January.

Here are some of the survey results, pertaining to when employees may return to workplaces.

What percentage of your employees are working remotely?

  • 75% to 100% of workers: 38%
  • 50% to 74% of workers: 18%
  • 25% to 49% of workers: 25%
  • Less than 25% of workers: 16%
  • None: 2%

When do you expect employees will return to in-person work?

  • Q1 of 2021: 5%
  • Q2 of 2021: 21%
  • Q3 of 2021: 57%
  • Q4 of 2021: 11%
  • After 2021: 4%

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