A proposal to require paid sick leave for Vermont employees moved forward with significant changes Tuesday afternoon.
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs passed H.208 with six votes. Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, opposed the motion. The bill goes next to the House Committee on Appropriations.
Changes to the bill render it somewhat less inclusive toward proponents' goal of reaching the estimated 60,000 Vermonters currently working without written policies that afford them paid sick leave.
Exemptions were written into the bill for some medical personnel, such as per diem nurses, and substitute teachers. Special treatment was also crafted for seasonal workers. A probationary period was added before employees can take advantage of the earned sick leave they accrue.
Businesses with four or fewer employees would be exempt.
The current version still would provide both full-time and part-time employees one hour of paid leave to tend to their own health or safety needs, or those of their families, up to 56 hours in a 12-month period.
Full-time employees are defined as those who work 30 hours per week or more. Part-time workers would earn sick leave at the same rate: one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. Salaried workers or those not subject to overtime provisions of labor law could accrue paid leave for up to 40 hours in a week.
The proposal has limited carryover benefits, but does not require businesses to give more than 56 hours of paid leave in a year.
Employers would be given discretion as to the conditions they can place on the sick time - for example requiring notice or requesting documentation to prove the validity of the time off. Employers also could be subject to a $5,000 fine for violations.
"I think we've done a very good job with this," said Rep. Jean O'Sullivan, D-Burlington. "I think it's fair and the end result is responsive to all the comments we've heard from our constituents and also other legislators."
Van Wyck disagrees. He said he shares concern about employers who do not provide sufficient time off for their employees. But the regulation would be so bad for business, he said, people will wish they had a job they could call in sick for without pay.
Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, is putting stock in a Department of Labor survey that was also added to the bill: After one year of implementation, the department would survey businesses employers and employees to gauge the effect of the law.
"I think if we are able to get a survey done we'll be able to show that it was a success," Stevens said. "Or if it was not a success, then adjustments will be made."
If it becomes law, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.