A new requirement that Vermont employers must consider granting flexible work schedules to employees goes into effect on Jan. 2.
The last tenet of the state’s equal pay act (H.99) mandates that employers at least listen to an employee’s request once every six months.
The bill also bars retaliation against any employee who seeks a change in schedule, similar to a section of the same statute that bans retaliation against workers who share information on the amount of their pay.
The employer is given fairly wide latitude in approving or rejecting the flex-time request, but supporters of the bill say it will empower workers and help them stay active in the work force.
“We think it provides a clear way they can balance work and family,” said Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women. “More women choose to work part-time or drop out of the work force … (when faced with unworkable hours) and access to a flexible schedule can make them stay in the work force, and also allow men to take time with their families.”
Under the statute, employers do not have to grant a flexible working arrangement to employees if it would impose:
(A) the burden on an employer of additional costs;
(B) a detrimental effect on aggregate employee morale unrelated to discrimination or other unlawful employment practices;
(C) a detrimental effect on the ability of an employer to meet consumer demand;
(D) an inability to reorganize work among existing staff;
(E) an inability to recruit additional staff;
(F) a detrimental impact on business quality or business performance;
(G) an insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; and
(H) planned structural changes to the business.
The flexible schedule mandate was not entirely embraced by the business community.
Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Grocers’ Association, said the nearly 1,000 retailers and suppliers his group represents already provide such arrangements.
“It happens every day already, why do we need legislation?” Harrison asked. “Have we slipped so far that we need this?”
Harrison said his members generally offer flexible hours to retain workers in a competitive market but saw some benefit to the bill.
“We may have disagreed whether it was necessary, but the law is a guidance document that provides a framework for meaningful workplace dialogue,” he said. “Many retailers are open seven days a week … employees all have commitments and any employer worth a grain a salt is going to look at all those and try to accommodate them. In most cases, working together with employees is win-win.”
Brown of the Commission on Women said writing the requirement into law shows that the state supports working families.
“Putting it in statute means we are strongly saying we value women and men spending time with their families,” she said.
Also on Jan. 1, the state’s minimum wage will increase by 13 cents an hour to $8.73. The minimum wage for workers who are tipped will increase by 6 cents to $4.23 an hour.
Vermont is one of 13 states increasing the minimum wage at the first of the year. The national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Beginning Jan. 2, the Department of Motor Vehicles will offer so-called Real ID cards.
The federal REAL ID Act is designed to promote security by requiring states to meet “certain physical and procedural security standards for production and issuance of DLs (driver’s licenses) and ID cards, as well as certain documentation standards, including authentication and verification standards for proof of identity, date of birth, Social Security number, residence, and lawful status or presence.”
To obtain a REAL ID, people will need an original or certified copy of their birth certificate or other proof of identity, and proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the United States. People will also need proof of their Social Security numbers.
Most Vermonters will be able to obtain a Real ID when they renew their licenses, however everyone will be required to have a Real ID by Dec. 1, 2017, to comply with federal guidelines. The federal compliance date for people born after Dec. 1, 1964, is Dec. 1, 2014.
After that date, federal officials may require REAL ID-approved identification when boarding aircraft, entering federal facilities that require ID and entering nuclear power plants, according to documents on the state’s website.