Hot topics on the minds of employers? Recreational marijuana use is no longer on the list…but religion is

April 22, 2021
Detroit, Michigan

Pandemic shifts employers’ pressing concerns; “Everything is off kilter”

Attorney Deborah Brouwer, co-managing partner of Detroit-based management-side labor and employment law firm Nemeth Law, P.C., says it’s never a dull moment for employers these days, but their priorities and concerns regarding employment laws and HR practices have dramatically shifted from just over a year ago. In considering the hundreds of client calls her firm receives each month, Brouwer looks at the topics now raised by employers - and those that have, at least temporarily, fallen off the radar.

“In 2019 and into 2020, we received more than a few calls from our clients about the use of recreational marijuana and the rights of employers under Michigan’s then-new recreational marijuana laws, in addition to the typical disability accommodation questions and - of course - the ubiquitous ‘employees behaving badly’ questions,” Brouwer said. “Since the pandemic, though, those questions have been replaced by all-things pandemic.”

While it may seem that the world is working remotely, Brouwer notes that many of the industries they serve, from manufacturers and healthcare to retail and some entertainment venues, are back in the workplace at least partially, so the usual questions are still coming in. But the most urgent employer issues have some element of a COVID-connection, from calls on the vaccine to fending off claims of an unsafe workplace, to – surprisingly – religious accommodation.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic,” Brouwer said, “there has been a marked increase in client calls relating to employee requests for religious accommodations involving scheduling around religious services, religious holidays, or prayer time, as well as limits to overtime work that interferes with the practice of one’s religion.”

5 workplace challenges for employers now

Based on outreach from their private and public sector clients, Brouwer offers a snapshot of current employer concerns:

  1. Vaccination policies: Can an employer mandate the vaccine?
  2. Return to work: Can I force my employees to come back to the office? How does the ADA impact workplace accommodations during the pandemic?
  3. Leave of absence policies and their interpretation under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the longstanding Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  4. How to respond to employee religious accommodation requests
  5. Claims of unsafe work environments about real or perceived violations of COVID-19 safety protocols

Brouwer says it will be a while before EEOC and other agency data is available to accurately reflect the chief complaints filed by employees, but employers are stressed by the competing pressures of safety, productivity, and a positive workplace culture in an era where decisions often need to be made immediately.

“Pre-pandemic, many employer concerns were anticipatory, due to pending legislation or upcoming planned changes in the workplace; but today, everything is off kilter,” Brouwer said.  “In the midst of a pandemic, and even what we hope is a waning pandemic, employer questions almost always deal with something that needs to be addressed NOW.”

About Nemeth Law, P.C.

Nemeth Law specializes in employment litigation, traditional labor law, workplace investigations, and management consultation and training for private and public sector employers. The firm also provides arbitration and mediation services. It is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.