Earned Sick Time Act - Finding Replacements
The Vermont Earned Sick Time Act ("VESTA") became effective on January 1, 2017. One might have assumed from the news surrounding VESTA at the time of its passing that its only purpose was to require employers to provide certain minimum amounts of earned sick time to employees--at least employees who worked an average of at least 18 hours per week for at least 21 weeks in a 12-month period, and who did not fall under a specific exempt category of employee.
Despite VESTA's clear focus on the provision of earned sick time, one very important requirement is somewhat hidden within the statute. Section 483(g) states that "[a]n employer shall not require an employee to find a replacement for absences, including absences for professional diagnostic, preventive, routine, or therapeutic health care." In other words, if an employee calls out sick from work, an employer may not ask the employee to find his or her own replacement.
Importantly, any violation of this requirement (or any other requirement set out in VESTA) is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 per violation, as well as any damages suffered by the employee. Additionally, VESTA has a retaliation clause, incorporating 21 V.S.A. § 397, which prohibits an employer from retaliating against any employee who complains about a violation of VESTA that has occurred. In the event of any retaliation, the law authorizes the employee to receive compensatory and punitive damages, restitution of wages and benefits, reinstatement, costs, reasonable attorney's fees, and equitable relief.
For these reasons, VESTA is more than it might have initially seemed, and it is important for both employers and employees to understand their rights and responsibilities set forth therein.