Healthy Workplaces

This past week, the House passed the Healthy Workplaces bill, H.187. The law, if it makes it through the Senate, would provide up to 60,000 Vermont employees with at least three days of annual paid sick leave after they have worked at their job for a year or 1,400 hours, whichever comes first. It would also expand mandatory paid leave to five days after two years of employment. H.187 would allow employees to use leave to care for themselves or sick family members.

The bill was sponsored by two legislators who are also small business owners. These sponsors had opposed other versions of such a bill in previous sessions, but felt this bill struck the right balance between the needs of employers and employees. A legislator who is also a doctor emphasized the benefits of the bill to public health, because it would allow parents to stay home with a sick child rather then sending him or her to school and would allow employees in food service industries to avoid going to work ill. The following provides some additional background as to the benefits of this bill:

A Pragmatic, Universal Approach With Employer Flexibility

• The bill creates a framework that allows employers the freedom and flexibility to manage business needs.

• The 1,400 hour waiting period takes into account turnover in industries like food service and construction. To put it in context, a weekend line cook would get one paid shift off after a year of work under H.187.

• Hard-working Vermonters are seeking employer support – this bill lets long-term, year-round employees know they are valued.

• The incremental two year phase-in gives businesses time to adjust.

• Employers have testified that benefits such as these lead to a happier and more stable workforce.

Paid Sick Days Make Our Communities Healthier

• Over 70 percent of food service establishments in New England do not provide paid sick time. Retail and personal care service jobs are a close second. The sectors that come into greatest contact with the public are the least likely to provide paid time off.

• When children go to school sick because their parents cannot miss work, other children and staff are put at risk.

• A 2014 Joint Fiscal Office Cost Benefit Analysis estimated that Vermont would save $5 million dollars in emergency room costs if earned sick days were provided with the understanding from research that people are 5.9 percent less likely to delay routine medical care and catch chronic conditions early if they have access to paid time off from work.

A Modest Step to Support Women, Children, Low-Income Workers

• Roughly 80 percent of the Vermont workforce currently has access to paid time off. The 20 percent that do not – about 60,000 working Vermonters – are disproportionately women earning low wages in multiple jobs.

• 72 percent of Vermont children under 12 live in households where all adults work. Women are more likely than men to stay home with sick children, and are currently much less likely to have access to earned sick days.

• A modest number of paid sick days reduce the trade-off between earning a paycheck and caring for a sick child or visiting the doctor. A recent UVM study shows that Vermont children are 15 percent more likely to have seen a doctor within the past year if their parents have at least three paid days off.

These points and the support of two organizations for which I have a great deal of respect, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Main Street Alliance, convinced me that this was a bill I should support.