On Wednesday, Vermont’s House approved a bill that would guarantee workers in the state the ability to earn paid sick days, sending it to Gov. Peter Shumlin (D)’s desk. Once the governor signs it into law, as he has said he will do, Vermont will become the fifth state in the country to ensure employees the right to a paid day off for their own illness or that of their loved ones.
That will mean a new workplace benefit for the estimated 60,000 workers in the state who don’t currently have access to paid sick leave.
The Vermont House approved of the bill by an 81-64 vote. It had originally passed a bill last spring, but the Senate only approved a modified version of that bill this week. In its final form, the bill requires all employers, regardless of size, to give their employees three paid sick days a year in 2017 and 2018. In three years, they will scale that up to five days a year. It exempts employees who work less than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year, those under the age of 18, and some classes such as seasonal workers and substitute teachers.
The governor commended the passage, saying in a statement, “This legislation puts an end to an era where some Vermonters were faced with the decision of going to work sick or potentially losing their job… We’re proud that Vermont will become the fifth state to guarantee this important protection to its citizens.”
The victory is hard-won for state activists, who have been pushing for a bill for the last decade. But the issue really gained traction among state lawmakers about three years ago. Vermont is also the home state of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has been a big proponent of paid sick leave legislation at the national level.
There are now 29 laws across the country at the city and state level guaranteeing workers the ability to take paid sick days. That’s a huge change from a decade ago, when San Francisco was the only place to do so. Still, about 40 percent of American workers don’t have access to the benefit. And according to a recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, those who make the lowest incomes and are therefore the least able to take an unpaid day off when they get sick are the least likely to get paid sick leave. Many workers whose professions put them in direct contact with the public, such as personal care providers and food service workers, are also among the least likely to be able to stay home when they’re sick.