The holidays are here and with the festivities comes the desire by most people to gather and celebrate with family, friends, and coworkers. In 2020, however, employers should first consider the health and safety of their workers before sponsoring a traditional holiday gathering. Bringing workers together for a holiday party not only increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, but it also puts the business owner at risk for significant fines and possible litigation.
MDHHS orders in effect through Dec. 20
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has orders in place through December 20, 2020 that prohibit traditional holiday workplace parties, including a ban on most types of gatherings at non-residential facilities. Also under the order, restaurants, bars, and banquet centers, typically places for workplace parties, are closed for in-person dining.
The MDHHS order prohibits indoor gatherings at residential venues, except for gatherings of 10 or less with individuals in the same household or with one other household. Individuals must wear masks consistently whenever they are inside with individuals not from their own household.
Although unlikely in Michigan in December, the MDHHS order allows outdoor gatherings of 25 or fewer people comprised of no more than three households at residential venues, with strict safety protocols including masks and distancing.
Violations of the MDHHS Orders
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA)’s “general duty” clause requires an employer to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to the employee. An employer who hosts a holiday party may face a general duty clause citation of up to $7,000.
Liquor licensees are strictly prohibited from allowing indoor gatherings, as defined by the MDHHS Gatherings and Face Mask Order, on their licensed premises. Any licensed establishment that violates the MDHHS order will be held strictly accountable and risk suspension or revocation of its license. All licensees must not only comply with the MDHHS orders, but also local health department orders and local ordinances regarding reduced occupancy rates and social distancing protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CDC guidelines on how to celebrate
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends celebrating holiday parties, including those hosted by employers, using video chat (Zoom) or through another form of virtual communication. A virtual party is the safest way to celebrate this holiday season.
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