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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Paid Sick Days Bill Is Back In Action

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Angela Evancie
/
VPR/file
House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, pictured here in January, says the version of the paid sick days bill rejected by lawmakers last year was too burdensome on Vermont businesses.

It wasn’t too long ago that supporters of paid sick leave were bracing for yet another disappointing year in the Statehouse. But the legislation has suddenly sprung back to life. And House lawmakers appear poised to adopt a compromise measure that would require employers to provide most employees with at least some paid sick time every year.

It’s been a long road for paid sick days in Montpelier. But 10 years after the introduction of the first paid sick leave bill, the proposal finally looks to have some real traction.

“The General house and military Affairs Committee will look at all of the aspects of the bill and if they give it their nod, we’ll be bringing it to the floor probably next week,” says House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas.

Copeland-Hanzas owns a small business in Bradford, and was among the critics of the paid sick leave bill introduced last year. That legislation would have required all employers to provide at least seven days of paid leave annually. Copeland-Hanzas says it was unduly burdensome on businesses.

“And so we went about trying to find a way to satisfy the very real needs of working Vermonters … but also balancing with that the needs of business owners in terms of how to comply with that law,” Copeland-Hanzas says.

Michelle Fay is a former legislator, and director of the Vermont Paid Sick Days Campaign being run by Voices for Vermont’s Children. The new version of the bill isn’t perfect, Fay says. 

“The amendment that’s being looked at now is a little bit less inclusive than we had initially liked, but this is a nature of the game,” Fay says. “We’re compromising to ensure that we can at least get that benefit in place for a good number of Vermonters.”

The legislation would ensure paid sick leave for the majority of the 60,000 Vermont workers that don’t currently receive that benefit. But seasonal and temporary employers would be excluded from the new mandate.

The latest version of the bill would require employers to provide three days of sick leave annually for the first two years of the law, then five days per year thereafter. The bill also includes a waiting period, and employers could require employees to work at least 1,400 hours before being eligible to use their sick days.

“You know, it’s unlikely to make everybody happy, but at least is more palatable to more of the business community,” Fay says.

The legislation still has some prominent critics. William Driscoll, vice-president of Associated Industries of Vermont, says that if lawmakers force employers to provide sick days, then many will have to recoup those new payroll expenses by dialing back on worker benefits or wages.

“And there are going to be circumstances, especially for smaller newer companies, in terms of a manufacturing like our membership primarily, but other businesses as well, where frankly margins are tight, resources are limited, and benefits like that cost money,” Driscoll says.

The Senate isn’t likely to take up the bill this year, even if the House gives its approval. But Fay says the paid sick days coalition thinks it can win support in that chamber in 2016.

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