“This decision is significant, not only for the Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency, but for all health departments in Michigan,” said attorney Jim Young, who represented the Health Department in both court cases. “It will be a published opinion which sets a statewide precedent that is binding on lower courts.”
Not only was the decision unanimous, but the three-judge panel agreed with the Health Department on every one of its arguments defending its authority to enact regulations that protect public health, Young said. “The clear success of our case illustrates the thoughtfulness of Judge Pajtas’ ruling last summer in favor of the Health Department.”
The court ruled local health departments were charged by the Legislature to "adopt regulations to properly safeguard the public health”. It agreed with the Health Department that the Michigan Clean Indoor Air Act does not conflict with the local regulation, even though it is more stringent than the state law.
Plaintiffs also tried to argue that a provision banning the firing of an employee who makes non-smoking an issue violates an employer's at-will employee rights. But the court said that it is lawful to protect an employee from discharge when the employee reports the violation of a local regulation as well as a violation of state law. According to Gerald Chase, Health Officer, 24 non-smoking individuals on average die each year in the Health Department’s four-county Health District as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. “We worked with our county Boards of Commissioners to approve the smokefree workplace regulation for one reason: eliminate nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke, a known carcinogen, at least at the worksite,” he said. “We are grateful to our four county Boards of Commissioners for recognizing the regulation was needed to protect public health.”
The “Public Health Indoor Air Regulation of 2005” requires most businesses in the four-county health district served by the Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency, to provide smokefree environments for their employees. Businesses in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties may designate a smoking room for their smoking employees that is independently ventilated so that smoke does not enter other non-smoking areas of the worksite. The regulation does not apply to restaurants and bars, private residences (except those used for child care, health care or adult day care), Indian-owned casinos, or vehicles occupied by only one employee.
Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information about the smokefree workplace regulation, visit www.nwhealth.org.