New law takes effect January 1, 2017

Vermont has now joined a growing list of states that require employers to provide paid sick time to employees. Before the law goes into effect on January 1, 2017, employers should act to ensure their leave policies will be in compliance.

WHO is covered?

The law’s definition of an “employer” is broad and, in effect, covers anyone doing business in Vermont, regardless of a business’s size. The definition of an “employee” is equally far-reaching and extends to any employee working an average of at least 18 hours a week over the course of a year. There are limited exceptions, however, including temporary and seasonal employees, federal employees, and individuals under the age of 18.

WHEN must employers comply?

On January 1, 2017, covered employees must begin earning sick time at a rate of one hour for every 52 hours worked for a total maximum annual accrual of 24 hours. Small businesses with less than six employees may wait until January 1, 2018 to start time accruals. During the first year of time accruals, and for newly hired employees, employers may implement a waiting period of up to one year before employees can use their accrued time. Employers may also limit employees’ accruals to 24 hours per year in 2018. Beginning January 1, 2019, the annual accrual cap will be raised to 40 hours. Generally, employees must be allowed to carry over unused time from year-to-year, unless employers cash out the time at the end of each year or provide a lump sum of time at the beginning of each year.

WHAT may employees use time for?

Employers’ leave policies must permit employees to use earned sick time for any of the following reasons:

  • For the employee’s own illness or injury, or to obtain preventive medical care.
  • To care for immediate family members who are sick or injured, or to assist them with obtaining preventive medical care.
  • To care for immediate family members when the family member’s school or business is closed for public health or safety reasons (snow days, for example).
  • To arrange for social or legal services, or to obtain medical care or counseling when the employee or an immediate family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Note that employers may require that employees “make reasonable efforts to avoid scheduling routine or preventative health care during regular work hours,” and notify the employer “as soon as practicable” of their intent to take earned sick time.

HOW will employers comply?

Employers with paid time off policies may comply with the law by modifying their existing leave policies. Employers should confirm that their employees will accrue time at the same rate and be allowed time off for the same reasons covered under the law.

WHY must employers act?

The Vermont Department of Labor is publishing a notice of employees’ rights, to be posted at employers’ places of work. The Department will enforce the law and may fine violating employers up to $5,000. Employees using earned sick time will also be provided certain legal protections, including the right to not be retaliated against. To avoid any liability, it is important for employers to ensure they will be in compliance when the law goes into effect.

If you have further questions or would like to discuss strategies to manage these developments, please contact a member of Downs Rachlin’s Labor and Employment Law Group.