Sides declared over paid sick time
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | January 29,2014
MONTPELIER — A House panel began hearing testimony Tuesday on a bill that would require Vermont businesses to provide paid sick time to employees, pitting advocates and some businesses owners against each other.
Paid sick time would boost public health by allowing workers to remain home when they are ill and help reduce health care costs by allowing workers to address medical issues before they become more serious, Rep. Jill Krowinski, a sponsor of the legislation, told the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee.
Krowinski, a Burlington Democrat, said the bill would require employers to allow all full- and part-time employees to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employees could accrue up to 56 hours of paid sick time per year and use sick time before it is earned.
The earned sick time could be used by the worker when sick or to take time off to care for a sick or injured family member.
“No mother should have to choose between her job and taking care of a sick child,” Krowinski said.
Several advocates, including Lindsay DesLauriers, a public policy associate for Voices for Vermont’s Children, spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday. She said the issue impacts women more than men because they are more likely to work part-time or hold lower-paying jobs that are less likely to offer paid sick time.
DesLauriers called on lawmakers to require sick time in order to have policy reflect that most adults in a household are now working.
Dan Barlow, public policy manager for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, told lawmakers his 1,000-member group is backing the legislation. He said forcing employees to work while sick can lead to bankruptcy, threat of serious illness or the need to go on public assistance.
Barlow said it will cost employers, however. He said payroll would increase by an estimated 1 percent if employees use an average of three sick days. For businesses that do not offer paid sick time, and for those whose employees use the maximum amount, it would increase payroll by 2.7 percent, Barlow said.
“You can’t sugarcoat this,” he said. “For some employers there will be an added cost.”
Mark Nicholson, a construction company owner representing Associated General Contractors, told the committee that business owners should not be saddled with the additional cost of paying for sick time.
“If it is for the public good, I think it needs to be paid for by the public, not put on the backs of employers,” he said. “The construction industry believes in benefits, but we do not need to have them dictated by the state. Benefits are a way we attract good employees. We take care of our employees.”
He said the construction industry is competitive and Vermont firms often compete with out-of-state contractors who may not have the same costly requirements.
“With health care and other bills, I think this is not the time to tag something on the back of employers,” he said.
Onion River Sports in Montpelier provides paid time off and health care coverage for full-time employees, said owner Andrew Brewer, who was representing the Vermont Retail Association on Tuesday.
But despite being a “progressive employer,” he said, he is opposed to expanding sick time to part-time workers and does not like “being told how to run my business.”
“They do not need it, in my opinion,” he said. “The impact for Onion River … would be about $7,000 or $8,000 a year. Is that going to put us out of business? Absolutely not. But it’s not nothing, either.”