Vermont Business Magazine Joined by Vermont businesses, legislative leaders, and others at the State House Wednesday morning, Governor Peter Shumlin today made Vermont the fifth state in America to guarantee paid sick days to its citizens by signing into law H187. The bill goes into effect January 1, 2017. Those businesses already with a paid sick leave plan or equivalent are exempt and employers with five or fewer workers do not have to implement a plan until 2018. The bill met with bitter opposition from many small business advocates who said that it is just another burden on doing business in Vermont. It's estimated that more than 60,000 working Vermonters lack access to paid leave.
At the bill signing, Shumlin thanked the many advocates and legislators who have worked for years on this issue, Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell who provided the leadership this biennium to get the bill through the Legislature, and the many businesses who provided their voice in support of the policy. The governor was also joined for the bill signing by the Obama Administration’s Sharon Block, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Labor.
Paid sick leave bill signing photo courtesy of Senator Campbell.
Shumlin said that while many Vermont employers offer this important benefit to their employees, there remain about 60,000 Vermonters statewide who do not have access to any paid sick leave. Many of those employees are low income earners. Shumlin called for passage of paid sick days in his State of the State Address in January, noting the public health concerns that arise from the lack of access to the benefit. Nationwide, almost 90 percent of food workers report that they go to work sick, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 65 percent of foodborne illnesses result from the handling of food by someone who’s sick.
H187 (CLICK HERE FOR FULL BILL AS PASSED) requires employers to provide a paid time off policy to include a minimum of three days in a twelve-month period to full-time employees beginning in 2017 and five days from 2019 going forward.
“When Vermonters do not have access to paid sick leave, they often go to work anyway, putting the health of other workers, the workplace, and all of us at risk,” Shumlin said. “There can’t be too many Vermonters who believe people should face the decision of going to work sick or potentially losing their job. When Vermonters are sick, we want them to get healthy. This law will provide dignity for employees, a more productive workforce for employers, and a safer workplace for all of us.”
"The paid sick days law was created to mirror the standards of dignity set by responsible businesses that take care of their employees,” said House Speaker Shap Smith. “Now the 60,000 Vermont workers who were denied earned time off no longer have to choose between supporting their family or taking care of themselves or their loved ones. That’s a Vermont value we should all be proud of."
“This bill is a compromise providing workers with necessary paid time off while balancing the concerns of the employer community,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell. “The bill will give an important health benefit to workers, without being overly burdensome to our great Vermont businesses. There was a tremendous amount of hard work that went into passing this bill through the Senate, and I thank all the advocates, administrators, and legislators who helped H187 through the Legislature.”
President Obama also sent his congratulations: "I commend Governor Peter Shumlin and the state of Vermont for taking action to provide paid sick leave for Vermont’s working families. This action means thousands of families will no longer have to choose between losing income and taking care of a sick child. It’s a choice no one should have to make. So I’m once again calling on Congress to help us catch up with other advanced nations and provide this basic security to all Americans. Until Congress acts, I urge other states to follow Vermont’s lead. And I’ll continue to do everything I can as President to support working families – because it’s the right thing to do to give everyone a fair shot to get ahead."
- Businesses with 5 or fewer employees are exempt until 2018.
- The bill is phased in over several years. Employees are allowed to earn a maximum of three days off (24 hours) for the first two years and that number increases to five days (40 hours) in the third year of implementation.
- Qualifying employees earn one hour of paid time off for every 52 hours they work.
- There is a waiting period for new hires of 2080 hours worked or one year - whichever comes first. Employees earn time during this period, but cannot use it.
- Employees are allowed to use this earned time off to care for themselves or a family member when sick or injured, to seek routine medical treatment, or to seek help and services in situations of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.
- The bill does not require employers to provide "paid sick days" over their current paid time off policies (vacation, combined time off, etc) so long as their plan meets the minimum requirements in the bill.
- Not covered are: An individual who is employed by the federal government; an individual who is employed by an employer for 20 weeks or fewer in a 12 month period; and in a job scheduled to last 20 weeks or fewer; or an individual that is employed by the State and is exempt or excluded from the State classified service, but not an individual that is employed by the State in a temporary capacity.
Support for New Law
The Main Street Alliance of Vermont launched an informational webpage for businesses to use as a resource and to ensure they are in compliance with the new law. The page includes pertinent information for businesses, a series of frequently asked questions, links to research on paid leave laws in other states, and contact information for businesses to use should they have additional questions.
“We want this page to be a go-to for Vermont businesses as they consider their own leave policies, and we hope it will help bring businesses into compliance with the new law,” said Lindsay DesLauriers, Director of Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “We welcome additional questions from business owners and plan to update and add to our page as the new law rolls out.”
The page, which can be found at vermont.mainstreetalliance.org/psd, primarily contains information for employers. However, it will also link to information that will be useful for employees.
Randy George and Eliza Cain of Red Hen.
“Offering paid time off to our employees was one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made,” said Eliza Cain, owner of Red Hen Baking Co. and longtime supporter of the legislation. “I believe that businesses who have remaining concerns about this new law will begin to see its benefits.”
Over the past few years, Main Street Alliance has worked to engage businesses across the state in conversation around earned leave, and in the years of debate and compromise, business owners have come around in support of the bill. One such business owner, Caleb Magoon, owner of PowerPlay Sports in Morrisville and Waterbury Sports, spoke at the bill signing.
Caleb Magoon interviewed by WPTZ at the State House. Main Street Alliance files photos.
“Initially, I was not a supporter of mandating paid sick leave, but today, I truly believe it’s one of the best benefits you can give,” said Magoon. “Because businesses were invited to the table to engage on this issue, we ended up with a policy that is good for employees and addresses the needs and concerns of Vermont’s small business owners.”
“This morning, the building is filled with early childhood educators who are ecstatic about the paid sick days bill because they know that without paid sick days parents will be forced send their kids to childcare and school sick,” said Representative Helen Head, who chairs the House committee that worked on the bill and who was the original sponsor of the first paid sick days bill introduced in Vermont roughly a decade ago.
Daniel Barlow, the public policy manager with VBSR, said: “For years, far too many hard-working Vermonters faced the prospect of going to work sick or going without a paycheck because they had no paid days off from work. This new law provides stability to families that are struggling by allowing workers to earn paid time off to care for themselves or a sick family member.”
“This will help contain illnesses, reduce workplace errors, decrease stress for employees, and continue Vermont’s legacy of being a leader in workplace employment law,” explained Angela Earle Gray, the director of human resources at Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls. “We are particularly appreciative that the bill was crafted with employers needs in mind. It is easy to administer and a high percentage of Vermont businesses will not have to make any changes to their policies due to its enactment.”
“The passage of paid leave legislation proves that Vermonters are serious about creating livable wages,” said Jennifer Kimmich, the co-founder and owner of the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury. “Paid sick time is a huge step in the right direction as we work together to tackle poverty.”
The new law recognizes that many Vermont businesses are already offering this benefit to employees by allowing for paid time off policies such as personal days, vacations, and combined time off packages, to substitute for paid sick days.
“Businesses that offer paid time off to employees will tell you that this investment pays off,” Barlow added. “Their employees are healthier, more productive, and more loyal because they know they won’t miss a paycheck if they get sick.”