VT Paid Sick Leave Law Explained

There is a pie sitting in my fridge right now. Why? Because while discussing the state of our nation and our economy with a friend, I roughly cited how dismally low the federal minimum wage was. Living in a state where our own minimum wage is a whole $2.35 higher than the FMW (but still nearly impossible to live on), my friend couldn’t believe the FMW was possibly as low as I’d stated. A bet ensued, and I won a pie. The FMW, if you were wondering, is $7.25. If you don’t believe me, please bake me a pie.

This is to say that I enjoy reading and talking about labor laws as a past time. But googling news stories on some of them makes it really hard to determine just exactly how they will effect any given individual, such as myself. So, I’ve gone straight to the source for you, and am open to bets on my accuracy of interpretation.

So, I looked at the exact legislation that our governor signed into law regarding paid sick leave. VPR actually had a fairly good post that answered some, but not all of my questions.

The VPR post mentions that employees that work 18 or more hours a week and 20 or more weeks a year are entitled to paid sick leave. Personally, I was very enthusiastic to hear that some seasonal employees (like me!) would be covered. But, I was curious how it would actually break down.

The answer is: for every 52 hours an employee works, they earn one hour of paid sick leave.

This is why when the media has talked about it, they sum it up that, in 2018, employees will earn 5 paid sick days. Here’s the math:

52 weeks a year * 40 hours a week = 2080 hours worked in a year

2080 hours / 52 (the mandated accrual rate) = 40 hours of paid sick leave

40 hours sick leave / 8 hours a day = 5 days of sick leave

Why did I say in 2018? Well, because although the law goes into effect in 2017, employers can cut you off at just 3 days in 2017. Also, in 2018 and beyond your employer can also cut you off from accruing more than 5 days a year, if you work more than 2080 hours a year.

Sick days roll over year to year. This is not true for a seasonal employee, like myself who is technically terminated each spring and rehired each fall at a ski resort. I will start each November with 0 sick days, however, the sick time I earn in November and December will carry on to the next calendar year and the remainder of that ski season then, when I transition to my warm season job, I will start back at 0 again, even if I worked there previously. (My current warm season job, because it is a small business, doesn’t have to let me use paid sick days until 2019. More on that later). Then the next November, back to 0. And the November after that.

But of you work the same job all year, they roll over year to year. Pretty cool.

Employers can make you wait up to a year to use your sick days if you are a new hire. During that year, however, you will accrue sick leave.

Those salary employees who are overtime exempt (which starting December 1st, will include less employees than it does now), may be limited to having a maximum 40 hours per week counted toward the 52 hours needed to earn 1 hours off.

Small employees with 5 or less employees do not have to offer paid sick days at all until 2018, and even then, all employees can start accruing sick days but can be made to wait until 2019 before they are able to actually use a paid sick day.

Per diem employees are not covered.

Of my six jobs in 2015, just one of them would qualify me for paid sick leave in 2017. (To be fair, one job was in New Hampshire, so this VT law wouldn’t apply. One job was per diem, two were too short of a season, and one was too few hours a week).

Phew! That’s a lot of details. No wonder the media outlets assumed no one cared. But to the folks who may be earning sick leave for the first time in their lives, this is HUGE. We want to know when and how! Because we’ve worked when we’re sick and it sucks.

And now some more math, for those wondering how much this will cost employers. Let’s say you make $10.40/hour. We’ll pretend its 2018 and you’re getting the full 5 days per year.

$10.40 an hour * 53 hours = $551.20

Why 53 hours? because, assuming that sick day is actually used, it ‘s like getting paid for a 53rd hour for every 52 you work.

So let’s divide $551.20 by 52 hours to get $10.60. Remember, you only actually worked 52 hours, but got paid for 53.

To really over simplify things, this paid sick day law, for an employee making $10.40 an hour is the equivalent to a 20 cent raise. Once again, that assumes that the paid sick time is actually used. Some folks rarely get sick, and might prefer the raise, but the paid sick time is the law. Don’t forget that new employees, who generally wouldn’t be eligible for raises, don’t have to be allowed to use sick leave until a year is up.

Might it mean some folks see less of a raise than they would have otherwise as this goes into effect? Of course. This math was to show the potential magnitude . There really is not such thing as free lunch. Because realistically, if we gave everyone 20 cent raises instead of paid sick days, they may spend that money (rather than saving it for when they need a day off) and still show up at work sick. Which, keeping people home when they are sick is the entire point of this law.

One more caveat- remember the minimum wage? You’re actually only guaranteed to get the state minimum wage while you are out sick. Which would make the above math moot except my hope is that employers would take the high road and give the same rate as the hourly pay.

Heck, employers are welcome to take the high road all over the place and give employees more sick leave then required! Who knows where this might lead!




How to Prepare for a Greenhouse Job

This is written for my mom, who is excited to start her first farm job (besides coming to work with me) this week.

  1. You already know it’s warm in a Greenhouse. Being in there all day will make your skin shrivel up from the heat and humidity and soak your shirt with sweat. Dress in light, loose layers that allow for sun protection and won’t make you overheat! Scrub pants and woven button ups are easy to find at Goodwill.
  2. You will sweat more than you ever thought possible. If you aren’t sure about proximity of potable water to your workstation, I love the Igloo half gallon jug to refill my 1 liter bottle that I carry with me. The Igloo jug is always on sale at Dick’s for Little Leaguers this time of year, and it’s insulated and will keep you water cold. For my 1 liter bottle I often opt for refilling seltzer bottles or making my husband drink a gatorade so I can have the bottle (their more durable than seltzer). Sure, I love my Nalgene with the Bernie sticker as much as the next UVM grad, but I love it enough to not want to loose it. On the occasions it does come to the farm with me, I can rest easy knowing it is bright orange. Never use a green water bottle.
  3. A bandana around the neck, drizzled with some ice water from your Igloo Jug can be your best friend.
  4. Sun hat. Sunscreen.
  5. If you’re anything like me, you will water the plants, as well as your shoes. Even if you don’t, your feet will sweat buckets. Bring a change of shoes or at least socks and change at lunch time.
  6. Wear comfy shoes. Sneakers or the like are fine and breath well, work boots are probably what OSHA thinks we should wear. The temptation is there and I’ve seen it done, but DON’T wear sandals.
  7. Bring sandals for the drive home!
  8. If you plan to run errands after work and this kind of thing bothers you, bring a change of clothes in case you are covered in potting soil or smell like fish emulsion.
  9. Food. Lots of it. You may want to think about snacks you can eat quickly with dirty hands like cheese sticks or bananas. I like to put my lunch in a hard sided cooler so I look bad@$$ like a construction worker. Low blood sugar + heat and humidity is not good.
  10. Plastic trays may not look like something you’d cut your hands on, but nor did a stack of paper before you got the first paper cut of your life. Wear gloves or at the very least know where the band-aids are (if not in your pocket).
  11. Cut your nails short. I don’t mind a little dirt under the nails but when they start to catch on things and get all funky its no fun. I suppose wearing gloves all the time might prevent this, too.
  12. Work gloves to me are like workout tank tops. You can never find the perfect one, can never have enough, and need a full quiver to have the right pair at the right time. Some folks swear by the rubber palm type because they allow great dexterity but they make you sweat a lot. I find the knit with painted dots gardening variety to be more breathable than rubber and more nimble than leather.
  13. Bring a knife. My favorite is a simple single blade buck knife with partial serration. Leave the full blown Leatherman at home, its weight may pull your pants down and, like the Nalgene, you’ll be bummed if you loose it.
  14. Take no offense to any critique of how you water plants. You may hear a lot of “water the soil, not the leaves,” but find in practice this is not possible. I have heard conflicting opinions of what individuals consider too wet or too dry for a plant so just do your best and take it all in stride.
  15. Go get ’em!!