Should employers be forced to provide paid sick days? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Should employers be forced to provide paid sick days?

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

A bill in the Vermont House Committee on General Affairs would mandate all employers provide sick days for their employees. The days would be accrued as hours are worked, but not everyone thinks mandating paid sick leave is a good idea.

People packed a hearing room at the Statehouse Thursday, many with children in tow, to voice their opinion on H.208; more commonly called the paid sick days bill.

"As with much of the service sector, wages aren't particularly great for restaurant workers," said Wes Hamilton. He owns several restaurants in the state. He doesn't offer paid sick days to his employees but wishes he could. 

"Of course, this means the people preparing and serving your food sometimes do so while sick," Hamilton said.

He thinks many of his employees come to work under the weather because they can't afford not to. But Hamilton says sick days would cost him too much, forcing him to raise food prices and he'd lose business to competing restaurants. He thinks a statewide mandate would level the playing field.

"So when treating my staff fairly and providing them with a dignified set of wages and benefits is something I have to consider in light of what my competitors are charging to customers, it creates a downward pressure on the benefits that I may be willing or able to offer," he explained.

Another Vermont business, GS Precision doesn't support the bill.  The company's spokesperson says the cost of paying for employee sick days plus the cost to temporarily fill those vacant jobs would be about $800,000 a year and would end up hurting its staff more than it would help them.

"A total of nearly $800,000 which will have to be offset by a reduction of other benefits such as competitive wages and health care," explained Shannon Zimmerman.

Others argued that having to choose between helping a sick child or family member or getting paid is not a fair choice to make. But the Chamber of Commerce believes it's best left to the employer to decide how much, if any, paid time off it can fit into its bottom line.

"Leave it up to the employers, don't try to implement a one-size-fits-all policy for a unique workforce in Vermont," explained Jessica Gingras of the Chamber.

As it's written now, the bill says an employer can't cap accruals until a person has earned 56 hours in a year, or about 7 days. But even some who support the bill say that's a number that number is too high. There is set to be another hearing in committee next week.

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