By Pamela Wolf, J.D. As Governor Peter Shumlin put his signature on a bill March 9 that cleared the state legislature last month, Vermont became the fifth state in America to guarantee paid sick days to its citizens. The governor was joined by Sharon Block, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor. President Obama quickly commended both the governor and the state legislature for taking action on legislation that his administration has been pushing to advance nationwide. Paid sick leave mandate. Specifically, H. 187 requires that employers provide earned sick time at the rate of at least one hour for every 52 hours worked. From January 1, 2017, until December 31, 2018, employers must provide employees with at least 24 hours (3 days) of earned sick time in a 12-month period. For existing employees, employers may implement a waiting period of up to one year beginning January 1, 2017, during which employees earn but cannot use sick time. After December 31, 2018, employers must give employees at least 40 hours (five days) of earned sick time in a 12-month period. Only an employer with five or fewer employees who are employed for an average of not less than 30 hours a week may implement a waiting period for existing employees of up to one year during which employees accrue but cannot use earned sick time. Coverage. The new law applies to all employers, but there is an exemption for new employers, which delays compliance until one year after the employer hires its first employee. The earned sick time requirements do not apply to federal employees, or employees that are under 18 years of age, have been employed for 20 weeks or fewer, or are employed on jobs that last 20 weeks or fewer, among other types of employees. Lack of paid sick time. According to the governor’s office, 60,000 Vermonters statewide lack access to any paid sick leave. Many of those employees are low-income earners. The governor called for passage of paid sick days in his State of the State Address in January, noting the public health concerns that arise from the lack of access to paid leave. Across the nation, nearly 90 percent of food workers reported that they go to work sick. Sixty-five percent of foodborne illnesses result from the handling of food by someone who’s sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “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,” Governor Shumlin said in a statement. “There can’t be too many Vermonters who believe people should face the decision of going to work sick or potentially losing their job. When Vermonters are sick, we want them to get healthy. This law will provide dignity for employees, a more productive workforce for employers, and a safer workplace for all of us.” “This action means thousands of families will no longer have to choose between losing income and taking care of a sick child,” said President Obama. “It’s a choice no one should have to make. 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.”
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