Shumlin signs paid sick leave bill - VTDigger

Shumlin signs paid sick leave bill

Peter Shumlin

Gov. Peter Shumlin signs the paid sick leave bill into law. Photo by Jasper Craven/VTDigger

Vermont became the fifth state Wednesday to require paid sick leave after Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that will affect some 60,000 workers.

The signing ceremony in the House chamber was the culmination of a 10-year effort by proponents.

Gov. Peter Shumlin called the legislation historic. President Barack Obama praised the law and prodded Congress to expand it nationwide. Vermont joins California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon as states mandating paid sick leave. In addition, the District of Columbia and more than 20 cities also have mandatory paid sick leave.

Under the legislation, employees who work at least 18 hours a week will accrue three days of paid sick leave starting in 2017. That increases to five days in the third year. Employers with five or fewer employees were given an additional year before they are subject to the new law. Employees can use the leave to care for themselves or a family member.

The law will impact employees, particularly those in lower-paying jobs, that don’t already already receive the benefit, including restaurant and day care workers, many of whom attended the bill signing.

“It’s still tough to make ends meet at the lower end of the pay scale. If you also have to choose between being sick and losing your job, it’s a double hardship,” said Shumlin, surrounded by legislators, employers and activists who supported the bill. “This is consistent with Vermonters’ values, and it poses a significant public health improvement.”

Shumlin said nationwide that 90 percent of restaurant workers report going to work sick and 65 percent of food-borne illnesses can be tied to a sick worker, he said, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

Shumlin said the law would help workers avoid having to “make the tough choice between going to work or losing your job.”

The law was the result of several compromises over the years, including an effort by some business owners to work with legislators to make the bill more palatable and then rally support for the law.

“Like many business owners in Vermont, I tend to be a little leery of when Montpelier puts additional burdens on businesses and I’m particularly concious of legislation that affects our bottom line. Even successful businesses like my own sometimes struggle to make ends meet and we have to balance what we want to do with what we can do,” said Caleb Magoon, who owns sporting goods stores in Morrisville and Waterbury, and joined the Main Street Alliance, a group of business owners, to make the bill more business-friendly and improve earlier versions.

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a trade organization that represents more progressive companies, also praised the bill, as did the American Federation of Teachers, which represents workers in health care and higher education.

“Businesses that offer paid time off to employees will tell you that this investment pays off,” said Dan Barlow, public policy manager at VBSR. “Their employees are healthier, more productive, and more loyal because they know they won’t miss a paycheck if they get sick.”

Shumlin also praised Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, and Sen. President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, for keeping alive a bill he said almost died several times. The bill passed the Senate this year after high drama, including a vote reversal after the bill originally passed.

Not everyone supported the legislation.

“While we would have preferred not to have a new mandate on employers, we do think the Legislature, in particular the Senate, made some modifications to make it less onerous and to be sensitive to some of the needs of small employers,” said Jim Harrison of the Vermont Retail Association.

“It remains to be seen how this will all play out. We think certainly paid sick leave is a valuable benefit and more and more employers are doing everything they can to offer the best benefit package they can for their valued employees,” Harrison said in an interview.

Harrison applauded the Senate for exempting employees under 18 years old and those working fewer than 18 hours per week and for giving businesses with five or few employees an additional year to comply.

“Businesses oftentimes feel that Legislatures sometimes want to manage their businesses and if they’re providing this benefit plus some, there’s certainly some anxiety when the state steps in and says no you have to do it this way,” Harrison said.

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, who received a gubernatorial signing pen, said the legislation provided a minimum benefit “at the basic level of humanity in that regard.” He said the legislation changed over the years and that it was “doable on the part of business and it’s also liveable for the workers.”

“It was a long adventure,” said Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington. “It all came together this year.”

Head added: “I think it was establishing the trust with the business communities and other communities. We have a lot of early childhood educators here… because they know when parents don’t have the opportunity to stay home, to care for a sick child, that means that child goes to school or daycare,” Head said. “This really ripples out to so many sectors, so many people throughout Vemont, much broader than the 60,000 Vermonters who currently have paid sick days.”

“It’s a huge deal,” Head said, particularly lower-wage workers.

“Too many workers face that impossible choice. This law is for the mom who has to decide if her son’s fever is too high, that she should take the day off to take care of him at home or whether it’s better to keep that paycheck and put him on the bus and hope for the best,” said Sharon Block, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor, who attended the signing. “It’s for fast-food workers who know they shouldn’t go to work when they’re sick and risk getting their customers and their co-workers sick but can’t afford to lose their job.”

President Barack Obama issued a statement after the signing and said he hoped Congress would pass a national paid sick leave bill.

“So I’m once again calling on Congress to help us catch up with other advanced nations and provide this basic security to all Americans. Until Congress acts, I urge other states to follow Vermont’s lead. And I’ll continue to do everything I can as president to support working families – because it’s the right thing to do to give everyone a fair shot to get ahead,” Obama said.

Support for the bill was tri-partisan. Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee, who said he favored the bill after hearing compelling stories of employees going to work ill.

Mark Johnson

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  • Chet Greenwood

    And almost entirely at the expense of the small business owner- privately owner mini marts, restaurants and construction trades, building contractors, electricians and plumbers to name few. Good going Legislators!
    Can we charge you for the day’s pay we have to pay the carpenter who didn’t show up to work on your house because he was sick??

    • Tom Haviland

      Frankly if my builder lets a sick carpenter work on my house I’m going to fire my builder. I want people at their best, and the sick carpenter isn’t going to do their best work. Additionally they could make for a sick electrician and a sick plumber.

      If the builder doesn’t pay for sick days the carpenter’s incentive is to show up sick and try and hide their illness rather than lose the day’s pay.

      As a business, tolerating conditions in which you are likely to have a sick employee working is disrespectful to your customers.

      • Chet Greenwood

        Tom- you missed the point- that employee could have been out fishing now that he/she is entitled to the “sick” day and it comes at the expense of the employer.

        I do agree with your analogy of sending a sick employee to someone’s house to work.

        • Tom Haviland

          I have no problem with employer verifying that the person was actually sick when they took a sick day.

          • Randy Jorgensen

            It’s pretty much illegal to do so. The employee doesn’t need to provide a doctors note, nor does the employee need to go into details of the sick call. It’s all what the employee wants to ‘volunteer’ for information.

          • Tom Haviland

            Ok, whatever. I’m not too worried about that anyways.

          • Clyde Cook

            Maybe so, but if your custom house took 4/5 months to build. are you happy paying the wages of say, 10 employees ( between the builder’s guys, plumber, electrician, drywallers, painters, roofers, tile/finish, insulators, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few) who will midd a day on your project? It adds up, it needs to be costed out in a bid. Some guys will bid it in, others will lowball it and make it up somehow else, lower quality work perhaps? And think of that as it ripples throughout from any other product in your home that is sourced/supplied by a vendor based in Vermont,. Not advocating yes or no on the subject, just trying to point out that it will raise costs, and who knows what other unintended consequences will appear?

        • Peter Liston

          The employee that calls in sick to go fishing is also the employee that takes home office supplies, habitually stretches 30 minute lunch breaks into 40 or 45 minute lunch breaks and texts with their spouse while they should be working.

          We know who those employees are. They fool nobody. And they never last long. Paid leave isn’t going to change much.

          • Eric A Rutz

            Not true. I’ve managed many, many people over the past twenty years in different industries, from corporate to family-owned operations, for-profit and non-profit, and found employee performance harder than this to predict.

            It is at times situational and fluctuates with age, health, financial need, things happening in their personal lives, how they are treated by a manager or co-workers, fairness in advancement opportunities, equitable distribution of company policy and what benefits are available to them. Many play the game because they can. They are not bad people. They are responding to the environment around them which is pretty natural.
            I will suggest to you they are less harmful than the sociopaths who trample on everyone but are called “high performers.”

            Some of my tenured staff who did a decent job coughed into the phone on a nice Friday, got stuck in the snow at the end of their driveway and somehow could not find a way to get to work from two miles away, or came down with a one-day flu on a Monday when the Patriots played the day before.

            This will happen under paid leave. A restaurant worker will still come in sick, cough on your food and hold their paid day off for a child’s doctor appointment or ski date with visiting friends. It’s human nature. In larger businesses this is not a big deal. In a five person operation it is.

            Practicing good business and personal ethics reduces the gaming, it brings out the good in others. But Vermont is an at-will state and you don’t see employment law attorneys getting paid to protect employee rights, or pressuring companies to follow their own rules. Their paychecks come from from one side of the table – employers – and as such many employees are taken advantage of and treated poorly.

            In a perfect world people would not bring their personal lives to work. It happens. I support this law but wish the marketplace were left to sort out the winners and losers.

            The laws in play are Mother Nature’s and she doesn’t run a nursery. She’s not paying attention to human efforts to equalize her world. She just keeps on rolling along and no matter how much we meddle in her affairs the rules stay the same.

      • robert fuller

        I had the exact thing happen. The plumber was on deaths doorstep. I ended up catching it. This was right before a planned week in the caribbean snorkeling and diving. It essentially ruined my vacation. I complained to the owner the first day the guy showed up and he essentially brushed it off. I have no sympathy for business owners. If they want to stay in business then they shouldn’t place their wallets over their customer’s health.

        • Clyde Cook

          As I mentioned in a reply above, the customer will also have to play ball on higher costs. And I do think your plumber should have behaved differently, but, if you’re a one man show, who fills in for you? A larger company could perhaps have sent another employee, but, larger enterprises in general have a larger, more expensive overhead structure.

          • robert fuller

            The customer already pays in the form of a Dr’s visit, meds, etc.

  • Peter Everett

    Any “Right” the government gives you is a “Right” that it can also take from you.

  • Peter Everett

    This is what’s wrong with mandatory sick/personal leave. Just saw a photo of my wife’s niece, a teacher in another state (classes in session).
    She’s on a cruise, holding up a very refreshing drink, big smile on her face. This woman is costing taxpayers $$$$. Some may think this is fine. As a retired teacher, I’m appalled at this. I worked with many teachers who couldn’t work two weeks w/o taking a day off. This ticked off many of my colleagues, as well as me. This earned time should be used for the intended purpose,not gallivanting on a cruise.
    Now, I’m sure many will feel this is fine to do. To those people who think it only happens in the public sector, think again. The Legislature, with all their good intentions, may have created a problem for some employers. Then again, hasn’t the Legislature created many unintended problems for taxpayers and small businesses.
    The thing that ticks me off the most about my wife’s niece doing this is….she has a Spring break in a few weeks. She couldn’t have waited. Again, the “me generation” in action. Right now, I’m fit to be tied. I hate waste. Thank God the In Laws live in another state.

  • Barre Pinske

    Why not just pay people for not working? I don’t get how the Government continues to think the workers are doing the businesses the favor. I own a small business it’s a pain to try to make pay roll each week. Who’s paying me when I am sick or driving 3 hours one way to make a delivery just to keep up the cash flow? Has anyone else noticed how little money Vermont residents have and how many businesses are struggling? We have totally lost sight of work reward values in the US and especially here in VT. Bernie is not helping either putting down the rich and offering things for free. We need realistic investments in our State where risk reward add up and business get support. We need people to want to create jobs and acquire wealth to continue our economic model that taxes people’s earnings and sales to run the government. If businesses are not successful people will not have jobs it’s very simple. You don’t take wood off a fire to create more heat. Needing time off to help someone or being sick is a problem for the business also because the business can’t earn. Add getting paid for not working is a double dip. Will workmans comp. and taxes come out of the not work earned time too? If it does that might make the bill unconstitutional now you are burdening the business greater than the workers wage. This is well intentioned but it simply boils down to the government saying you have to pay someone for not working.

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