Vermont Passes Paid Sick Leave Legislation

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 23, 2016

Vermont's legislature has passed a paid sick leave law (H.B. 187), which is now on Governor Peter Shumlin's desk for signature. In a joint statement with Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and House Speaker Shap Smith, Governor Shumlin applauded the legislation, stating that "We're proud that Vermont will become the fifth state to guarantee this important protection to its citizens."

In addition to those four other states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon), Vermont also joins a growing number of municipalities (over 20) that have passed paid sick and safe leave laws (the latest being Spokane, Washington).

The Vermont bill's stated purpose is to "promote a healthier environment at work, school, and in public by ensuring that employees are provided with paid leave time for purposes of health care and safety." Covered employers would be required to provide eligible workers with three paid sick days per year from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018, and five paid sick days per year thereafter (i.e., as of January 1, 2019).

However, the bill provides that a new employer will not be subject to earned sick time requirements until one year after it hires its first employee. In addition, the law allows an employer to require a waiting period before new hires may use earned sick time (up to one year), although the employee would be able to earn and accrue sick time during the waiting period.

Under the bill, an employee may use sick time for a number of reasons, including:

  • The employee's own illness or injury;
  • Obtaining professional diagnostic, preventive, routine or therapeutic health care;
  • Caring for a sick or injured parent, grandparent, spouse, child, brother, sisters, parent-in-law, grandchild or foster child, including accompanying the individual to scheduled treatments or health care appointments; or
  • Arranging for one's own or a covered relative's social services, legal services, medical care or counseling arising from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

The bill contains notice provisions, including posting and new hire notification requirements. The legislation also provides for the usual retaliation protections that would prohibit an employer from penalizing an employee for using protected sick time. For example, an employer may not require an employee to find a replacement for work absences.

Penalties for noncompliance could be assessed in an amount of up to $5,000.

As with all paid sick time compliance obligations, an employer should review its existing policies, especially those regarding paid time off or sick leave, as well as any applicable collective bargaining agreements, in order to plan for the bill's enactment and enforcement.