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Vermont’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, signed into law a measure that will require employers to provide paid sick leave. Vermont becomes the fifth state with such a mandate, following California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon.
“When Vermonters do not have access to paid sick leave, they often go to work anyway, putting the health of other workers, the workplace and all of us at risk,” Shumlin said in a March 9 statement.
“This law will provide dignity for employees, a more productive workforce for employers and a safer workplace for all of us,” the governor said.
The law applies to all private employers doing business or operating in Vermont and covers employees who work at least 18 hours a week. The requirements will be phased in starting Jan. 1, 2017, when businesses must give workers at least three paid sick days a year. Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, businesses must offer employees a minimum of five paid sick days each year.
Businesses with five or fewer employees will have until Jan. 1, 2018, to begin offering the benefit.
Employees will be able to use the leave time to care for themselves or a family member.
Employers can comply with the law’s requirements by maintaining a paid time off (PTO) policy that provides employees with any type of PTO as long as the policy provides an annual amount of PTO equal to or greater than the amount required by the Vermont law and allows employees to use that leave for all of the reasons enumerated in the state proposal.
In addition to the five states that have enacted paid-sick-leave laws, more than 20 municipalities across the country have passed their own ordinances applying to employers within those cities or counties. This includes New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C. And there has been action on the federal level as well: The Obama administration has issued an executive order mandating that federal contractors provide paid sick leave. The order is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
Vermont’s new sick-leave law adds to the “growing patchwork of state and local laws mandating employer-provided sick leave,” according to David Mason, an attorney in Ogletree Deakin’s Boston office. These laws differ substantially in key areas, including the required amount of leave, the rate of accrual of leave time, which employees are covered and the ability to rely on existing PTO benefits, he noted. Employers with Vermont operations—or operations in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon or one of the municipalities that have enacted their own laws—should review their existing sick leave and PTO policies to determine if any changes are needed to ensure compliance, he advised.
Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.
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