Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor
Vermont recently enacted a law amending the Vermont Fair Employment Practice Law and expanding existing equal pay and discrimination laws to provide greater protection to employees. +2013 Bill Text VT S.B. 57. With regard to equal pay, the new law makes it unlawful for an employer to pay employees of different sexes different wages for equal work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility. It does, however, permit the employer to pay different wages when such wages are based on a seniority system, merit system or system in which earnings are based on quantity or quality of production. An employer may also pay different wages based on a bona fide factor (other than sex) such as education, training or experience. It additionally prohibits employers from retaliating against employees complaining of wage discrimination and provides protection for employees who inquire about or discuss their own wages or the wages of co-workers. Government contractors in Vermont must also now certify their compliance with equal pay laws.
Further, the new law guarantees and protects the rights of both male and female employees to request flexible working arrangements. These may include changes in the number of days or hours worked, changes in arrival or departure time, working from home, or job sharing. Employees are permitted to make two requests per year. Within 30 days of receiving such a request, an employer must engage in good faith discussions and alternative proposals can be raised by both the employer and the employee. An employer is permitted to deny a request if it is not consistent with the employer's business' operations or legal or contractual obligations but must reach a decision within two weeks. This response must be in writing if the original request was in writing. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against absent employees who have requested flexible working arrangements.
Lastly, the law provides additional protections for nursing mothers in the workplace and provides that an employer may not retaliate or discriminate against an employee who exercises the right to breastfeed at work.
The flexible working arrangements provisions of the law take effect on January 1, 2014. The remainder of the law takes effect on July 1, 2013.
As a result of this new law, Vermont employers should develop and implement a policy prohibiting wage discrimination and make all decisions based on skill and performance after a timely performance evaluation. Further, an employer should not prohibit employees from discussing wages.
Additionally, an employer should be receptive to all requests for flexible working arrangements such as job sharing and telecommuting, and make an effort to grant such requests if doing so would not impose an undue hardship. Lastly, employers should be flexible and accommodating when it comes to nursing mothers into the workplace.