Shumlin to Sign Bill Requiring Paid Sick Leave in Vermont

By Rebecca Walker

Vermont is revolutionizing the workplace, as the state has recently passed a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for their workers.  Currently, it is estimated that there are about 60,000 Vermonters who do not receive paid sick leave, many of whom are women who hold low-wage jobs.

The bill, H. 187, has been met with much debate, and the implications of the bill for the small businesses of Vermont have been hotly contested in the Vermont House and Senate.

The bill, which was given preliminary approval by the full Senate, would dictate that employers provide their workers with three sick days a year in 2017 and 2018, and then five sick days by 2019.

Jim Harrison, the Executive Director of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, claimed that the bill hurt businesses unable to afford the steep medical costs.

“[The bill] disproportionately impacts the smallest businesses in the state,” Harrison said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio.

However, others see the benefits of this mandate as outweighing the risks it poses to small Vermont businesses.  One of those people is Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin (R), who ensures that the benefits of this bill entail “reduced employee turnover, the cost of productivity losses as a result of payment to ill workers who underperform while on the job, reduced spread of contagious diseases, reduced emergency room use and other health-related benefits.”

This bill also benefits those who consume Vermont food products. Nationwide, 90 percent of food workers report that they go to work sick, and about 65 percent of foodborne illnesses are the consequence of food handled by an ill person.  Thus, there would be a public benefit to having paid sick leave as well.

Of course, this does not mean that there would be no cost to the businesses.  In an announcement from the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, it is estimated that this healthcare mandate would cost businesses around 11 million dollars in additional labor costs when implemented in its most extreme form.

The Senate version of this bill would have some exceptions in its application.  Federal employees, employees under 18, and those working less than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year would not qualify for this mandate.

During the debate, some proponents favored an exemption to the bill for businesses with five employees or fewer. If this bill did not apply to businesses with five employees or fewer, then 60 percent of Vermont businesses would not fit under the qualifications of the mandate.  In turn, this means that approximately 22,000 workers in the state of Vermont would not be covered for their sick days and would be presumably contributing to the creation of an unhealthy environment.

Eventually, after a dramatic vote-turnover, no exemptions were included for the small businesses.

Kris Jolin, a Capitol Connections lobbyist representing the National Federation of Independent Business noted his disapproval with the bill in an interview with Valley News.

“This will no doubt come at a high cost to small businesses,” Jolin said, “and will certainly have a serious effect on jobs and the economy in our state.  We implore members of the House to take into account the detrimental impact that imposing such a mandate will have on job creation and the difficulty that the small business sector will have in absorbing the price of this legislation.”

The House did ultimately approve the Senate changes, and H. 187 is fully expected to be signed by Governor Shumlin in the near future.

Vermont will become the fifth state to mandate paid sick leave for employees.

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Shumlin to Sign Bill Requiring Paid Sick Leave in Vermont