A Better Balance recently wrote and submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court an amicus brief in an ongoing case concerning the right of Michigan workers to paid sick time. We are proud that 18 organizations and a Michigan State Senator joined our brief, which outlines the success of paid sick time laws around the country and research regarding the need for comprehensive paid sick time policies.
In the fall of 2017, we worked with Mothering Justice and a coalition of Michigan organizations to help draft a ballot initiative that would entitle workers in the State to paid sick time. Under Michigan law, once an initiative petition receives enough signatures, the Legislature can either adopt the proposals as written or send the initiative to the ballot. Once the paid sick leave petition gathered the sufficient number of signatures, however, legislators announced they would adopt the proposed initiative—along with a qualified initiative to raise Michigan’s minimum wage—with the intent to gut the laws during the subsequent lame duck session. Because the Michigan Legislature followed through with this “adopt and amend” scheme, voters in Michigan were blocked from weighing in on the comprehensive paid sick time proposal. As a result, current Michigan law only grants paid sick time to certain workers, for certain reasons, and with weak enforcement protections.
We previously filed an amicus brief in 2019 requesting that the Michigan Supreme Court issue an advisory opinion finding the Legislature’s strategy of adopting the ballot initiatives—only to gut them immediately following their adoption—unconstitutional under state law. The Court declined to issue an advisory opinion at the time, and our long-time partners at Mothering Justice (along with several other groups and individuals) filed the formal lawsuit that is now before the Court.
The new amicus brief we filed makes the case that, because of the many amendments made by the Michigan Legislature, the resulting paid sick time law fails to cover many workers in the State, weakens the protections for those workers who are covered by the law, and undermines the law’s public health benefits. The Legislature’s changes, which we believe are unconstitutional under Michigan law, included removing small businesses from coverage, removing temporary- and part-time workers from coverage, limiting the family members a worker can use paid sick time to care for, inserting a presumption that employers are complying with the law if they provide any kind of paid time off, and making it significantly harder for employees to defend their rights under the law. The brief also cites years of research showing that comprehensive paid sick time laws protect workers’ economic security, improve public health, and lead to cost savings for employers.
Through our free and confidential legal helpline, we have heard the stories of impacted Michigan workers who are suffering the real-life consequences of the Legislature’s changes to the paid sick time law. For example:
James works at a small construction company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has been working on and off for the same company for seven years and has never received any paid time off of any kind. James told us, “When I get sick I either have to go to work and spread germs or not get paid.” During the pandemic, James’s boss told him and his coworkers that if they had COVID-19, he “doesn’t care anymore” and that they still had to come in. When James was sick more recently, he called our helpline to learn whether he had the legal right to a paid sick day under Michigan’s paid sick leave law. We had to inform him that that law does not apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees and he has no, current legal right to any paid sick time. James told us that, without protections, he fears that even asking his boss about taking paid sick time might lead to his losing his job.
Or consider Ashley, a Michigander who works for a major airline that provides paid sick days but issues punitive “occurrences” when employees use them. Ashley and other members of her union have received such occurrences—which can lead to discipline— when taking paid sick time. When Ashley called our helpline to inquire about her rights, we had to inform her that even if the state’s sick leave law covers her, the state legislature weakened the clear anti-retaliation protections that were in the original version of the bill that was supposed to go to voters, and inserted a presumption that employer policies like this, even ones that punish workers for taking allotted paid sick time, comply with the law, all of which would make it that much harder for Ashley to assert her rights.
A Better Balance is hopeful that the Michigan Supreme Court will rule against the Legislature’s efforts to thwart the paid sick leave ballot initiative. Michigan workers deserve the paid sick time rights that the 2018 Legislature took away from them, and workers like James and Ashley should be able to take the paid sick time they need without fear of retaliation.
We are proud to have filed this amicus brief alongside so many partners, all of whom recognize the importance of comprehensive paid sick time for workers. The following organizations and legislator signed on to the brief:
State Senator Erika Geiss
AAUW of Michigan
Caring Across Generations
Detroit Disability Power
Detroit Justice Center
Family Values @ Work
Fems for Democracy
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Michigan League for Public Policy
Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network
Planned Parenthood of Michigan
State Bar of Michigan Immigration Law Section
United for Respect
Women Lawyers Association of Michigan