What nonessential employees can do if they’re being forced to work during coronavirus crisis

Employers not allowed to punish workers for reporting businesses

DETROIT – Many people who work at nonessential businesses around Metro Detroit have called Local 4 News since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order to say they’ve been reporting to work even though they feel they shouldn’t due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Read -- from March 26, 2020: Michigan governor clarifies stay-at-home order

What should a person do if they feel their boss is in violation of the order designed to keep Michigan residents safe?

Under Whitmer’s executive order, car washes aren’t considered critical to infrastructure as essential businesses, but Friday, one in Macomb County was open for business.

RELATED: Do you need a pass to go to work? Answers to this and more questions about stay-at-home order

While most companies are complying with the shutdown at great financial loss, there are bad actors, such as a nonessential retail outfit in Ann Arbor.

“They’re, like, ‘That doesn’t apply to us. We’re going to park out cars in the back,’” one employee said. “I don’t (know) why they think that. I don’t know why.”

MORE: Answering 9 questions about Michigan’s stay-at-home order

On Thursday, Local 4 noticed brisk business at numerous tobacco shops, and we’ve received many calls and emails about worried workers who feel powerless when their employers say they have to work.

One viewer, Betsy, said she’s worried about her daughter. As a low-income head of household, she needs the money, but Betsy worries her daughter will get infected.

“She rides the bus to work,” Betsy said. “(There could be) sick people on there.”

“I’m so angry at them,” another Metro Detroit resident said. “They are making money more than caring about people’s health.”

The Attorney General’s Office sent out guidance for how employees can protect themselves. Nonessential employees who are still working can file a complaint for working in hazardous conditions with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Click here to visit MIOSHA’s official website.

There are penalties for illegally staying open -- $500 or 90 days in jail. There are also penalties for employers who punish whistleblowers who turn in businesses still operating illegally.

Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw suggested having a conversation to try to reason with your employer, and if that doesn’t work, call law enforcement to get them involved.

Betsy said she took the more drastic route and called Ann Arbor police.

“The next thing I know, my daughter called, and (police) closed them down because they are nonessential,” Betsy said.

The Attorney General’s office added a new section to its website Thursday, Know Your Employment Rights, to provide Michigan residents with more information on the legal rights of employees and employers under the executive order.

Related stories

About the Authors: