Engaging with…the Benefits of Earned Sick Leave

By Brad O’Neil

Last week, a package of bills was introduced in the state House to help survivors of domestic abuse protect themselves. The bills would create a confidentiality program for survivors, extend unemployment benefits to them, ban discrimination in renting, and allow for the use of paid sick days to make things like medical appointments and court dates easier to attend.

All good things, of course – but the last one caught my attention.

If the term “paid sick days” sounds familiar, it’s because it is. In February, bills were introduced in both the state House and Senate that would ensure all Michigan workers the right to earn paid sick leave.

The bills would allow Michigan’s 1.5 million workers (about 46 percent of the state’s private sector workforce) who don’t have paid sick days to earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. Unfortunately, these bills have yet to find the kind of bi-partisan support that the domestic violence package has.

Allowing paid sick days to be used for more than simply being sick is a great idea that gives workers the latitude they need to deal with life’s challenges. There’s only one problem with it – not everyone has paid sick days.

Why deny the ability to earn paid sick days to many Michiganders while at the same time bestowing additional benefits to having them? It doesn’t make any sense.

There’s something very hypocritical about opposing earned sick leave legislation but supporting its expanded use. And it leaves one to wonder what survivors of domestic violence who don’t have access to paid sick days will do. Are they not worthy of concern?

Supporting these bills without first supporting universal access to earned sick leave is not only shortsighted, it’s nonsensical. Both ideas are necessary, so let’s implement them both rather than picking and choosing which pieces of patchwork legislation will have the privilege of seeing the light of day.