Paid sick leave is a mandated employee benefit in nearly every developed country in the world. Workers in those countries do not have to choose between their health and losing a day’s pay. Nor are they forced to choose between their pay and the health of their co-workers and customers. Some of these countries have flexible paid time off laws which combine maternity leave, sick leave, personal days, and vacation days so that an employee can use that time as they see fit.
Over the past decade, tired of waiting for the federal government to act, three major U.S. cities (Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco) and one state (Connecticut) have instituted paid sick leave policies with positive results. The Vermont legislature has worked on and debated paid sick leave legislation for several years, and in the past two years, I have heard from more people in support of paid sick leave than any other law passed by the legislature.
Vermont employers are more generous with paid leave benefits than most states: about 75% of private sector employees in the state have some form of paid time off and about 50% have some form of paid sick days.
And still we have gaps. Approximately 57,000 Vermont workers have no paid sick days or paid time off benefits. By far, the largest proportion of those 57,000 workers are engaged in food preparation and service, are women, and are lower wage employees. Because women disproportionately bear caregiving responsibilities – caring for a sick child or an ailing parent – and are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence, earned sick leave is a benefit particularly important to women.
The Vermont House passed earned sick leave legislation in the 2015 and, with some revisions, the Vermont Senate passed the bill this past spring which the governor has signed into law. Here’s what Vermont’s earned sick leave law does:
Sets a minimum standard of paid time that employees earn based on the amount of hours they work – one hour earned for every 52 hours worked. The time off can be used for personal or family sickness, doctor visits, elder care, and to seek help for domestic abuse.
If an employee can already use a vacation or personal paid day off as a sick day, it counts toward the minimum benefit required in the law.
Employers can require a waiting period of up to one year for new hires. Employees would accrue the earned sick leave in the first year, but could not use it until the waiting period concludes.
This legislation phases in the minimum amount of earned sick leave employers need to offer. The bill's implementation date is January 1, 2017 and employees can earn up to 24 hours (3 days) off in a 12-month period. Starting January 1, 2019, that number increases to 40 hours (5 days) in a 12-month period.
New businesses are allowed a one-year exemption from the requirements of the bill. Businesses with five or fewer employees working no less than 30 hours per week also have a one-year implementation delay. These businesses will fall under the requirement starting January 1, 2018.
Not all workers are covered by the law. Vermont's law exempts seasonal and temporary workers, employees under the age of 18, and those working an average of less than 18 hours each week.
Vermont’s new earned sick leave law takes a modest step in the direction of acknowledging the needs of today’s workforce outside of the workplace. It’s a small benefit in support of some of our state’s most vulnerable workers.
Days of Summer
Allow a dad to brag a little. So proud of our local Cal Ripken League baseball team, which won the Vermont State Championship in July. Four boys from Norwich and two from Thetford (including my son Mack, bottom row second from the left) were on the team. This is a picture of them after beating a very good team from Manchester, VT.
Saturday night at the Norwich Fair is clearly when the best arms come to town to try their luck at the Lion's Club dunk tank. For my 30 minutes on the bench, I must have been dunked 40 times!
This was my favorite local lawn sign combination, especially after the terrible, terrible events of June and July.
I spent the afternoon of July 4th re-reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. If you haven't read it yet, run, do not walk, to the Norwich Bookstore to get a copy.