Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

New rules for employers

See also Dave Mount's column Overtime pay moves to the forefront from August 2015

Each year, I try to summarize the results of the Vermont legislative session as it relates to employment. This year, as I write this, the Legislature has only been adjourned for a few days and the ink is barely dry on the bills.

As I look at the proposals from our legislators, I realize just how different the world is for them than it is for the employers in the state. While we all struggle to make a living, provide employment, and grow our businesses, many legislators look for things that they perceive we are doing wrong and try to pass laws to right those perceived wrongs. Fortunately, only two bills passed that have a significant impact on employers in general.

The first of these may be costly to some small businesses — especially those that do not have some form of paid time off. This is the paid sick leave mandate. Companies will be required to provide sick pay to employees beginning on January 1, 2017.

The law provides that an employee is entitled to one hour of sick pay for each 52 hours worked. It is capped at three days for 2017 and 2018, and five days thereafter.

As with any law, there are rules and thresholds.

• Employees who work under 18 hours a week are exempt.

• Seasonal and temporary employees who work less than 20 weeks are exempt.

• Newly hired employees have a one-year waiting period before they accrue this benefit.

• New companies do not have to provide sick pay until one year after they hire their first employee.

If your company already has sick pay, this bill will not apply unless you pay less than the amount required under the law. If your company has a paid time off (PTO) or combined time off policy, this law does not apply unless you pay less than the amount required.

Also, if your company has paid vacations but no paid sick pay, I would urge you to talk to your attorney and switch to some form of PTO. With that, you will not need to accrue sick pay if you otherwise comply with the law.

The second law is the so-called Ban the Box law.

I am a big advocate of hiring non-violent offenders who have served their time in prison. I believe that this will reduce recidivism and will be beneficial to our society as a whole.

Nonetheless, most employment applications ask, in some form, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Effective July 1, 2017, this question is no longer permitted in Vermont, unless required by federal law. Take a look at your employment applications and remove this question.

This law does not prohibit you from inquiring about a criminal conviction. The legislature cannot forbid employers from looking at public information, and conviction records are public. So, you can ask in an interview. Nothing in the law prohibits you from noting the results of your question in your interview notes. You just cannot ask on the application.

The theory here is that the application is like the key to a door. If the applicant is not asked about a criminal conviction (and has one), he/she may be invited into an interview where they may be otherwise perfect for the job. All of this is well and good and may help to employ more people with a felony in their background.

There was a major disappointment in the 2016 session, too. There was a bill, passed unanimously out of committee, that would have clarified the rules around independent contractors — a regular quandary for many employers. This met some unexpected opposition and was not brought to the floor of the House for a vote. So the rules remain unchanged. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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