As assistant general counsel for labor and employment, litigation, and sensing technologies at industrial technology company Fortive, Michael Fleischer makes a point of advocating for the organization’s operating companies, and championing Fortive’s employee-first approach to COVID-19. However, his first brush with advocacy came long before he channeled his passion into a career in law.
“I was born severely to profoundly deaf,” Fleischer begins. “I was really fortunate in that I got my hearing when I was two years old. However, I had a lot of language delays growing up. By the time I got to elementary school, those delays had been diagnosed as learning disabilities.”
In those early years, Fleischer’s parents took it upon themselves to advocate for him—and to teach him how to advocate for himself. More than simply speaking up for their son, they helped him find his voice. Fleischer identified the specific learning styles that worked best for him. He also started sitting in on parent-teacher conferences and individualized education program (IEP) meetings to have a say in those conversations.
That lesson has informed Fleischer’s life and career ever since. In addition to his day-to-day in-house legal duties, he has played an active part in shaping Fortive’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, he continues to support students with disabilities, as he has done since his own days in the classroom.
In seventh grade, Fleischer started attending weekend conferences put on by the Learning Disabilities Association of Massachusetts (LDAM). “LDAM had programming for kids,” he explains. “All of a sudden, I was meeting people who had similar learning challenges. I realized that I wasn’t alone.”
Fleischer went on to write an article for LDAM’s quarterly newsletter to offer a student’s perspective on navigating learning disabilities (which was later republished as part of a book) and began serving as a student speaker for LDAM. He extended his impact in college at the University of Pennsylvania by serving as the undergraduate representative on a committee tasked to review and provide recommendations to improve services for students with disabilities.
“I was born severely to profoundly deaf. I was really fortunate in that I got my hearing when I was two years old. However, I had a lot of language delays growing up. By the time I got to elementary school, those delays had been diagnosed as learning disabilities.”
After graduating, Fleischer took a job in the civil rights division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. The role opened his eyes to the possibilities of advocating for others as an attorney. He completed law school, then honed his understanding of labor and employment law at a firm before joining Fortive in 2018.
Today, Fleischer advises Fortive on global labor and employment matters, manages litigation, and serves as a cotrainer for Fortive’s internal investigations training program. Furthermore, in July 2021, he took on an expanded legal role that includes serving as assistant general counsel for the company’s sensing technologies group—a role that demands even broader legal and compliance expertise. “It’s going to be a learning curve, but I’m excited for it,” Fleischer says. “I’m lucky to be at a company that is centered around innovation, continuous improvement, and inclusion.”
Likewise, Fleischer feels fortunate to have contributed to Fortive’s multidisciplinary COVID-19 response team, which hit the ground running in February 2020. “We immediately instituted a policy where, if an employee had COVID symptoms or tested positive, we would provide them with administrative paid leave during their quarantine period to ensure they had financial stability during an otherwise unstable time,” Fleischer confirms. “It was critical to us to make sure that we always put the health and safety of our employees first and that we had our employees’ trust.”
“It’s been the biggest privilege of my career to be a part of this amazing Fortive team that has worked tirelessly since the start of COVID to help keep our people safe. We still have challenges ahead, but I know we’ve got the resolve and commitment to overcome them.”
Fleischer’s advocacy background has translated well to the COVID response team, which he has coled since September 2020. “It’s been the biggest privilege of my career to be a part of this amazing Fortive team that has worked tirelessly since the start of COVID to help keep our people safe. We still have challenges ahead, but I know we’ve got the resolve and commitment to overcome them,” he says.
As he continues to look out for employees at Fortive, Fleischer has no plans to slow down his external advocacy efforts. He currently sits on the board of directors for Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a nonprofit that has led the charge in special education advocacy across the state since its formation in the late 1960s. “This organization has been at the forefront of getting laws passed to protect students’ educational rights,” Fleischer says. “I’m a by-product of that legislation, so it’s a tremendous honor to be on their board.”
In addition, Fleischer also plans to resume his duties as a volunteer special education surrogate parent through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Of his multiyear past involvement, he says, “This program is very special to me. There are students out there who have no parents or legal guardians and need an advocate. Someone to attend their parent-teacher conferences, make sure that their IEPs are followed, and teach them self-advocacy.”
Just as his parents once instilled the importance of advocacy in him, Fleischer in turn, passes down his advice and knowledge to the next generation—to prepare them to speak up for themselves.