State representative opposes school district’s sick leave policy

Published 11:17 am Friday, October 8, 2021

BERRIEN COUNTY — A local politician has taken issue with an area school district’s new employee policy.

In a Wednesday news release, Brad Paquette (R), Michigan state representative for the 78th district, expressed full opposition to Berrien Regional Educational Service Agency’s newly adopted policy granting 10 additional paid sick leave days to employees vaccinated against COVID-19 to be used if they contract or are exposed to the virus, but not to unvaccinated employees.

Berrien RESA’s new policy states that vaccinated individuals who contract COVID-19 or are required to quarantine due to an exposure to COVID-19 will be able to take up to 10 additional paid leave sick days. Verification of vaccination status or medical exemption must be provided to the RESA HR Office in order to utilize these days.

Sick days for vaccinated employees that were used due to COVID-19 related situations between Aug. 23 and today will be returned to impacted employees upon verification of vaccination status.

“It is a real problem that Berrien RESA is implementing discriminatory measures pertaining to personal health decisions,” said Paquette, a former public school educator and chair of the Subcommittee on K-12 Appropriations. “This policy clearly discriminates against those who have decided that vaccination is not the right personal health choice.  All employees should receive the same number of sick days regardless of vaccination status, no questions asked.  This policy is an invasion of employees’ privacy and our tax dollars are being used to support it. This is wrong and must be corrected.”

Paquette also announced he is working on legislation that would ban such discriminatory sick leave policies in Michigan that will soon be formally introduced.

The release came as a surprise to Berrien RESA Superintendent Eric Hoppstock, who said that he had a conversation with Paquette regarding the new policy last Friday.

According to Hoppstock, the concept for the new policy was brought to the district by RESA employees.

“This all started by a few employees coming to us saying they would like to add extra days to cover COVID issues,” he said. “There was a need for some people to have extra time due to COVID exposure or being sick themselves. We developed a policy in collaboration with employees. We’re always talking about what’s good for both the employee and employer.”

While employees must be vaccinated or have an exemption to receive the sick leave days, the policy “overwhelmingly” passed with employees, Hoppstock said.

“Roughly 80 percent of our staff is vaccinated,” he said.

Hoppstock said that feedback from teachers and administrators has been positive.

“We are not having any controversy,” he said. “No one is coming to me with complaints, and board members haven’t been receiving messages. We aren’t discriminating against a protected class. We talked with our lawyers before doing this.”

With the policy being COVID-specific, it will dissolve when the pandemic subsides. Hoppstock added that the possibility of a vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 employees would factor into the future of the policy.

“If [the COVID situation] improves, this will be a moot point,” Hoppstock said. “There won’t be a need. This is a short-term solution put in place to work with staff.”

Paquette could not be reached for additional comment as of publication.