WHITE RIVER JUNCTION (AP) - Vermont business owners must now consider worker requests for flexible working arrangements under a new law that protects workers from retaliation for asking for alternative schedules, job sharing and to work at home.
The law, which went into effect on Wednesday, is aimed at improving employees' ability to balance work and family obligations, The Valley News reports.
State Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, who co-sponsored the bill, said women face challenges adhering to traditional gender roles at home while maintaining their "earning potential over time," according to the Valley News (http://bit.ly/JS65do).
She said 40 percent of mothers earn the majority of their family's income.
"The flexibility in scheduling allows people to take on those family responsibilities while still remaining in the workforce," Buxton said.
Assistant Attorney General Julio Thompson, who is director of the Attorney General's Civil Rights Unit, will be in charge of enforcing the new law.
"It allows for a legally protected conversation," she said. "Employees can't face demotion or adverse treatment because they ask."
The law also includes increased protection for pregnant and nursing women and reinforces previous equal pay laws. It allows women to request time and space for breast-feeding in the workplace and increases worker protections against retaliation by employers.
Employers must consider flex-time requests at least twice a year, but the law doesn't say which request should be granted, according to the Vermont Commission on Women.
The Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility supported the bill.
"The part we found that is really important is that if an employee makes that request, there can't be any retaliation just for asking," said Andrea Cohen, VBSR's executive director. "Employers just have to respond to requests and engage in that conversation. There are many legitimate reasons for saying no and they're completely entitled to do that."