Battle Brewing Over Paid Sick Time Bill

Feb 11, 2014

Backers of a bill that would require all employers to provide paid sick time to their workers, are hoping that the full House will vote on this issue before Town Meeting Day. Both supporters and opponents aren’t sure how the vote is going to turn out.

This legislation is turning out to be one of the most emotional debates of the 2014 session.

The bill would require all employers to offer seven days of paid sick time to their full time employees and part time employees would accrue time based on the number of hours that they work.

"So that all workers in Vermont have a very modest amount of time to manage their own health needs and those of the family." - Lindsay DesLauriers, chair of statewide coalition supporting the bill

Lindsay DesLauriers is a public policy associate for Voices for Vermont’s Children, a group that strongly supports the legislation. She says there are roughly 60,000 Vermonters who desperately need this benefit.

“The repercussions of this can be some pretty severe hardship for a lot of people and so what we are trying to do is to establish a standard,” said DesLauriers. “So that all workers in Vermont have a very modest amount of time to manage their own health needs and those of the family.”

Cathy Davis is vice president of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce. She has serious concerns about the bill. She’s worried that the legislation will hurt the state’s small business community.

“You’re talking about the smaller employers that tend to be those that are struggling the most,” said Davis. “The cost to those employers to implement this is a serious concern especially when you’re talking about a lot of businesses that have very small margins.”

Davis says many small businesses already make arrangements with their employees regarding paid sick time and she doesn’t think there should be a statewide mandate.

“So where it matters they’re making the decision but they don’t necessarily want a one size fits all approach that’s not going to let them respond to their employees and the benefits that their employees want,” said Davis.

But DesLauriers says the bill is needed to create a level playing field for all employers and she thinks it will improve their bottom line:

“We can’t leave it to individuals to negotiate when the stakes are so high,” said DesLauriers. “And when real data indicates that a significant percentage of Vermonters, again the sixty thousand number or 20 percent of the total workforce are not accessing any paid time off for health care.”

As currently drafted, the legislation would exempt businesses that have four or fewer employees. When the bill comes to the House floor for a vote, there could be amendments to increase the size of this exemption.

The only other state to have a similar law in place is Connecticut and the law there exempts all businesses with fewer than 50 employees.