Vermont is close to becoming the fifth state, after Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon, to mandate that employers provide their employees sick leave benefits.

Under H. 187, passed by the Vermont Legislature on February 17, 2016, employers must provide employees in the Green Mountain State at least 24 hours (or three days) of earned sick time in a 12-month period beginning on January 1, 2017, and through December 31, 2018. Thereafter, employers must give employees at least 40 hours (or five days) of earned sick time in a 12-month period. Earned sick time will accrue at not less than one hour for every 52 hours worked. Governor Peter Shumlin has stated he will sign the bill.

Employers Covered

All employers, regardless of the employer’s primary place of business, are covered by the bill, but businesses with fewer than six employees will have until January 1, 2018, to come into compliance. A “new employer” is not required to provide earned sick time until one year after the employer hires its first employee.

Employees Covered

All full-time employees who work an average of no less than 18 hours a week in a year are covered by the bill. For newly hired employees, employers may impose a waiting period of up to one year during which employees earn but cannot use sick time.

Employees excepted under the bill include federal employees, employees under the age of 18, and individuals employed by the employer for 20 weeks or fewer in a 12-month period and in a job scheduled to last 20 weeks or fewer.

Permitted Uses

An employee may use earned sick time:

  • For his or her own illness, injury, or preventive medical care;
  • To care for a sick or injured parent, grandparent, spouse, child, brother, sister, parent-in-law, grandchild, or foster child;
  • To arrange for social or legal services or obtain medical care or counseling for the employee or for the employee’s parent, grandparent, spouse, child, brother, sister, parent-in-law, grandchild, or foster child, who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or who is relocating as the result of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and
  • To care for a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, brother, sister, parent-in-law, grandchild, or foster child, because the school or business where that individual is normally located during the employee’s workday is closed for public health or safety reasons.

An employee may use accrued earned sick time in increments of shorter than a normal workday, but the employer is not required to permit increments that are shorter than one hour.

An employer may cap use of accrued earned sick time to not more than 24 hours in a 12-month period from January 1, 2017, until December 31, 2018, and not more than 40 hours in a 12-month period thereafter.

Carrying Over, Payment upon Termination

Any unused earned sick time at the end of an annual period is carried over to the next annual period. However, an employer may pay an employee for unused earned sick time at the end of an annual period and the amount for which the employee is compensated does not carry over to the next annual period.

Unless agreed upon by the employer, an employee is not entitled to payment of unused earned sick time upon separation from employment.

Existing Policy or Collective Bargaining Agreement

If an employer has a paid time off policy or is a party to a collective bargaining agreement that provides the employee with paid time off for the reasons in the bill with accrual and usage rates equaling or is greater than that under the bill, then the employer is considered in compliance with the earned sick time requirement.

Other Provisions

The bill states that the Commissioner of Labor will issue a form notice that must be conspicuously posted by employers for employees. All new employees must be notified of the earned sick time requirement at the time of hire.

The bill prohibits employers from retaliating against employees and from conditioning use of sick leave on employees finding replacement workers. However, employers may require employees to make reasonable efforts to avoid scheduling routine or preventive health care during regular work hours and to notify the employer as soon as practicable of the intent to take earned sick time and the duration of the absence.

The Commissioner has authority to enforce the earned sick time requirements and violators may be fined not more than $5,000.

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Employers with Vermont employees should consult with employment counsel, review their existing policies carefully, and prepare for compliance with the earned sick time requirements. Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer inquiries regarding this and other workplace developments.