Sick-Leave Bill Called Business Friendly

Rutland Herald : Sick-leave bill called business-friendly

By Neal P. Goswami

VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | February 06,2015

MONTPELIER — Advocates and lawmakers are hoping the House version of an earned sick-time bill will sway skeptics and tip the scales in their favor.

The idea of mandating that businesses allow workers to accrue paid sick time has had trouble gaining traction with lawmakers in recent years. Many have been reluctant to foist a new burden on Vermont’s small businesses.

But advocates have maintained pressure, and President Barack Obama voiced his support for the idea last month in his State of the Union address.

Rep. Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, plans to introduce a bill he believes will address some of the concerns expressed by the business community about previous efforts. 

While it establishes a standard of paid leave workers can earn, it includes a 500-hour waiting period for employees before the benefit kicks in. That amounts to about three months of full-time work.

Toleno’s bill also phases in the benefit at a slower rate than previous legislative efforts, including a bill sponsored by Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden. Toleno’s version allows employees to earn up to three days of sick time in the first two years, increasing to five days after that.

“I am very proud to have helped to craft a fresh start to this effort. This is a new common ground and common sense proposal that addresses the fundamental concerns of my fellow small business owners while also accomplishing three important objectives for all Vermonters,” Toleno said Thursday at a press conference hosted by Vermont Earned Sick Days Coalition.

Coalition campaign director Michelle Fay said the legislation includes input from the business community. 

“After extensive outreach to the business community — including chambers, associations and individual businesses, we have identified a common ground that addresses the most frequently articulated concerns of business owners while still achieving the fundamental objectives of the coalition,” Fay said.

The bill has at least one convert. Caleb Magoon, owner of the Power Play sporting goods store in Morrisville, said as late as last year he opposed earned sick day legislation. But he said Thursday that Toleno’s bill eased his concerns and he now supports it.

“I could not support a bill that didn’t provide a waiting period before paid leave would be available to a new worker,” Magoon said. “This new bill addresses that. It also establishes a gradual phase-in while still ensuring that workers can manage routine day-to-day health needs.”

Magoon said the minimum required number of sick days is also low enough so it won’t harm businesses that want to offer more extensive benefits as a way to recruit and retain employees.

Baruth, who attended the news conference Thursday, said the House bill is where he had hoped his own bill would end up after going through the committee process. He said it should help draw additional support, even from Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has said he hopes to bring advocates and business groups together on the issue.

Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said the governor would help to facilitate further discussions.

“The governor supports the concept of this legislation — that no one should feel financially forced to go to work sick — and will review the legislation being proposed,” Coriell said. “He appreciates the effort of business groups and advocates to find a compromise on this issue, and will help to keep that conversation moving forward.”