Yesterday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued his much-anticipated Emergency Executive Order 20-56, “Safely Reopening Minnesota’s Economy and Ensuring Safe Non-Work Activities during the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency.” While this Order may have dominated the headlines, he also issued Emergency Executive Order 20-54, “Protecting Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions and Retaliation during the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency.” As its title implies, Executive Order 20-54 grants new COVID-19 related protections to Minnesota’s workers, and it imposes new obligations on their employers.
The main thrust of EO 20-54 is to extend Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) rights and responsibilities to COVID-19 related issues in the workplace. For example, EO-54:
- Prohibits an employer from discriminating or retaliating in any way against a worker who communicates with management about OSHA matters related to COVID-19;
- Prohibits an employer from discriminating or retaliating against an employee who chooses to wear a mask, gloves, or other protective gear at work, provided that the gear does not violate industry standards or existing employer policies;
- Allows employers to require employees to use employer-provided protective gear that meets or exceeds protective gear procured by employees;
- Gives employees the right to refuse to work under conditions that they, in good faith, reasonably believe present an imminent danger of death or serious physical harm, including a reasonable belief that they have been assigned to work in an unsafe or unhealthful manner with an infectious agent such as COVID-19;
- Prohibits an employer from discriminating against a worker for the worker’s good faith refusal to perform assigned tasks if the worker has asked the employer to correct the hazardous conditions but they remain uncorrected;
- Gives employees the right to request the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to conduct an inspection of their workplace if they believe that a violation of a safety or health standard that threatens physical harm exists or that an imminent danger exists, prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against an employee who makes that request;
- Protects unemployment eligibility for workers who quit under circumstances described in EO 20-54, including their employers’ failure to correct pandemic-related adverse work conditions, such as the failure to implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan or other guidelines;
- Directs the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to develop guidelines regarding employers’ obligations to provide reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19 for qualified employees with disabilities;
- Indicates that those reasonable accommodations may include adjusting schedules or work stations, allowing employees to work from home, or permitting use of leave.
As more and more businesses re-open and employees return to work, it becomes increasingly important for all of us to be aware of our rights and responsibilities under EO 20-54. Given the wide-ranging perspectives and concerns that all people have related to COVID-19 and how to respond to it, these differences could easily escalate into violations of this Order.
If you have questions or concerns about your rights or responsibilities under this Order or any other workplace law, rule, or regulation, please give me a call at 320-763-3141. I would be happy to guide you through it to make sure you are protected.