report from montpelier

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

By Rep. Joan Lenes

Over the past several legislative sessions we have had conversations about healthy workplace environments and how we could help solve the issue of paid sick days. We were working to accomplish this while balancing the needs of employers and employees. I believe we have accomplished that balance this session. Employers that previously had not been supportive stated they were satisfied with the modest legislation offered in H.187.

Those eligible include all permanent workers, whether full time or part time. Vermonters would be able to accrue up to three paid sick days each year that could be used for personal illness, the illness of a family member, or seeking protection from domestic and sexual violence. H.187 has been developed in partnership with Vermont business owners and will effect real and positive change for many working Vermonters. Temporary and seasonal workers are not eligible.

The proposal includes a 1,400-hour or one year (whichever comes first) waiting period before employees can access this benefit. Working full time, the 1,400 hours would be equivalent to eight months of work. Once employees surpass the 1,400 hour mark, they earn the hours accrued within that initial time period. Two years after implementation, the amount of annual paid time that employees can earn would increase to five days. This is regardless of previous employment status under the initial phase of the bill.

Employers who currently offer any type of paid leave will be minimally affected as long as this time off can be used for unscheduled illness or safety concerns for themselves or their family. For example, if an employer offers five days of vacation time, reclassifying it to five days of combined time off (CTO) will put them in compliance. A separate sick time policy is not required. The bill is a minimum standard and employers are free to offer additional paid time off as part of their existing benefit package.

Opponents have suggested that this legislation will result in drastic increases in payroll costs. Calculations that reflect high utilization and the need for replacement workers suggest a one-time 1 percent increase in payroll for employers currently providing no paid time off whatsoever to any employees in 2016, followed in 2018 by a one-time half a percent increase.  Most employers, however, will see no impact from this legislation, while thousands of working Vermonters will now have the opportunity to care for their sick child, take their parent to the doctor, and access preventative health care.

A growing number of business owners have come to the table to help craft this legislation in a way that will work for businesses and still garner the support of a broad coalition of advocates. This support comes from health care providers, children’s advocacy groups, labor and faith leaders, low-income advocates, and business organizations like Main Street Alliance and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

The intent of this legislation is to establish a minimum standard and ensure a level playing field for all employers and employees. The majority of businesses who came to the table to help craft the bill expressed a preference for a simple, moderate universal standard that would apply to everyone. California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts all have earned sick day laws, as well as a number of large cities and municipalities. The proposed legislation falls in the middle of the range when compared to similar legislation enacted in other parts of the United States. The proposed phasing is moderate in comparison, as most existing laws begin with immediate access to five or seven earned sick days. About half of existing laws establish a universal standard for all businesses. I think we have been able to create a “Vermont sized” proposal that reaches the balance we strive to achieve.

Please join me at Bruegger’s Bagel on Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am until the legislative session adjourns (proposed to be by May 16). You can also reach me any time at (802) 999-9363 or jlenes@leg.state.vt.us. Messages can be left with the Sergeant at Arms at 1 (800) 322-5616.