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Should every Michigan business be required to offer paid sick days?

Posted at 9:27 PM, Mar 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-03 22:21:38-05

LANSING, Mich. -- For roughly 1.5 million workers currently in the state, taking a paid sick day off from work isn't an option.

A package of bills from both Senate and House Democrats would mandate employers to provide earned paid sick days to every employee. A coalition of several different Michigan groups is pushing lawmakers on the issue this week. The coalition includes Mothering Justice, the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, and Our Kitchen Table, among others.

If passed, employers would be required to offer one hour of earned time off for every 30 hours worked. For an average employee working 40 hours a week, that would come to about eight paid sick days off per year. The mandate would apply to both part time and full time workers.

Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts already have statewide paid sick time laws in place, while several cities across the U.S. have similar requirements.

Jeff Lobdell, president of Restaurant Partners Inc. which owns several Grand Rapids-area eateries, including the Beltline Bar, Sundance Grill and Bar, and the Omelette Shoppe, argues the move could hamper business growth in the state. “The businesses in Michigan have really improved in the last several years, and I think if you add more onerous things, it’s going to be difficult for us to attract new businesses, new restaurants, new shopping malls, new factories," Lobdell said.

Lobdell, a former Michigan Restaurant Association board member, echoed the group's sentiments sentiments, saying a one-size-fits-all approach isn't the answer, and such decisions should be left up to individual businesses. At his restaurants, Lobdell said, he offers his managers paid time off and maternity and paternity leave by choice.

“If they’re forced to have that burden, that might send them out of business, and I’d hate to see that happen," Lobdell said, "We add benefits, increased pay, and do things for our staff as we can afford to do so.”

Supporters of the mandate point to recent polling data that shows 86 percent of voters in Michigan  support paid sick days for employees.

"Your most important asset is the people who are working for you," said Stelle Slootmaker, with Our Kitchen Table, a non-profit Grand Rapids-based organization. "Take good care of them, and I think good things are going to happen to your business.”

Slootmaker said sick workers on the job cost employers $160 billion in lost productivity, adding that working mothers who have to care for their own sick children are at the greatest disadvantage without a mandate.

“Typically the jobs without paid sick days are the lower level jobs where these are folks not making a ton of money anyway and they’re doing their best to get by," she said. “They have to leave sick children home alone, if we can give them a little support as they’re working so hard we’re all for that.”

Democratic state lawmakers have set up a website called MichiganCares, where they're encouraging people to log on and submit their stories and opinions on the issue of paid sick days, among other topics.