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Vermont Governor Signs Bill Requiring Employers Provide Paid Sick Leave

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Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill Wednesday making Vermont the fifth state to require employers to provide paid sick leave to workers.
Vermont’s new law creates a mandatory minimum requirement for paid time off when an employee is sick or needs to care for a child or family member who is ill. It also covers time off to access domestic abuse services.

The law will be phased in.  It requires employers with more than five full-time employees to have a paid time off policy that includes a minimum of three days in a 12-month period beginning in 2017 and five days from 2019 going forward.  

Voices for Vermont Children Paid Sick Days Campaign Manager Annie Accettella says this is the culmination of a 10-year effort by a broad coalition.   “There’s 60,000 Vermonters that didn’t have access to a single day of paid time off.  It was very much needed. So, you know, a lot of workers that have historically not had paid sick leave they will start to be able to accrue leave when the bill goes into effect this July, then be able to stay home take care of their family or take care of their illness. The other aspect is that you can use this bill if you are a victim of domestic violence and survivors of domestic violence.  So I think that’s a really important aspect of the bill for workers.”

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is a statewide association representing more than 760 businesses.  Public Policy Manager Dan Barlow says implementation of paid sick leave will result in healthier and more stable workplaces.   “In the bill we worked in a number of provisions that would lessen the impact on small businesses that are not doing this right now.  But when we talked to business leaders that are offering this benefit they tell us that they see this pay off for them very quickly. When your workers have access to paid days off they are more productive at work.  They show up at work healthy.  They’re loyal to the business.  Businesses see decreased turnover. So we really believe that this is a small investment for businesses that’s really going to pay off down the road.  I mean if you look at a person making minimum wage in Vermont, which is around $10 an hour right now, this would only be about a $240 increase for a business each year if that employee uses all of their paid days.”

The Vermont Retail and Grocers’ Association has been concerned about the impact the law will have on small businesses. President Jim Harrison says it’s too early to tell how it will affect employers but the Senate made important changes that could help.   “We now have a law and we will certainly work with the various state agencies and our members to educate employers as to what their responsibilities are.  The Legislature did make some important amendments and changes to the legislation. So our hope is that it won’t be as onerous as it perhaps once was. Do we like a new mandate? No.  We think employers are doing that because they need to do what’s right for their employee or they don’t have an employee.  Employers want to do the right thing and many are today as well.”

The White House issued a statement praising Vermont’s new law and encouraging more such statutes:   “Until Congress acts,” President Obama said, “I urge other states to follow Vermont’s lead.”

Barlow says that reflects the importance of the legislation.   “This is one of the defining bills for this biennium. And looking back last year we increased the minimum wage in Vermont.  This is a whole package that’s going to really help move Vermont workers forward economically.”

California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon also mandate paid sick leave along with more than 20 cities and the District of Columbia.  

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