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VBSR Testimony to Senate Economic Development Re: H. 99- Equal Pay and Workplace Protections

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is a statewide business association with over 1200 members--large and small from a variety of business types.  VBSR just celebrated our 22nd anniversary.  Our members generate $4 billion in revenue annually and employ 15% of the state’s workforce.  74% of our members have been in business in Vermont for more than 10 years. (89% more than 5 years).

We support H.99 which proposes to clarify and strengthen existing laws regarding equal pay, the prohibition of discrimination in employment, and to ensure that employees can request flexible work schedules without fear of retaliation.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age that nationally, women only earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts earn.  We are only doing slightly better in Vermont at 84 percent.  We need to do better by our citizens and our families.

The changing economy has also continued to put new demands on employers and employees which require more nimble workplaces and open conversation about business and employee needs.  We need to foster work environments where workers may request flexibility in schedules, where employers have the right to respond in the best interest of their business, and where there is no fear of reprisal. Families have changed, the workforce and the economy have changed, and our labor and workforce policies need to keep up.

Since this bill passed the House we have received additional comments from members concerning Sec. 6 of the bill, flexible working arrangements.  We have been hearing from some well-meaning businesses that they fear getting into trouble for not complying with the letter of the law, despite their best efforts.  You might want to consider adding a “good faith” provision in this section.  (e.g. respond in 14 days unless can’t for a legitimate reason)

In our earlier testimony in House General we asked that the bill be changed so that
when a request is made by an employee that it is not required that a "meeting" take place.  (Our testimony was that there are times when employers are not physically co-located with their employees and an in-person meeting would be difficult or costly in that time frame. Also, it may just not be necessary if it is a simple request with a simple response).  Regulations in this new business era need to address the new way business is done.  The version passed by the House requires a “discussion” instead of a meeting.  Again, a “discussion” might not be necessary if it is a simple request with a simple response.  We recommend that the bill allows for a decision without a “discussion” if the decision is favorable to the request. It is important to remember that the right to ask, a business to thoughtfully consider, and the employee not being retaliated against for asking, is the goal of this bill.

Finally, most importantly we need to educate both employers and employees about policies and practices that can be mutually beneficial.  It is our request that the state agencies responsible make considerable effort to educate employers about their responsibility and opportunities regarding flexible work arrangements.

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