A bill under consideration by the Vermont Legislature allowing employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year for an illness, to care for a relative or the birth of a child, will cripple many small businesses in the state. It will also hurt the employees if those companies are forced to scale back operations or shut down because they don’t have enough staff to accommodate the workload.
At a mom-and-pop auto shop in northeast Vermont, the owner says their 10 employees are a prized asset and they do all they can now to accommodate requests for family leave. But that flexibility would vanish under a government mandate allowing up to three months of leave, especially if a specialty mechanic were off, or two workers took leave simultaneously.
The owner says the business would be forced to accept fewer work orders. But as earnings drop, bills for utilities, insurance, taxes and state assessments would remain the same. There would be no choice but to cut the hours of other employees. Seeking a temporary replacement worker is out of the question since it’s been nearly impossible to find to skilled mechanics, even for a permanent full-time job, in that rural part of the state.
The proposal for 12-week family leave is also creating concerns at a small advanced manufacturing facility in southwestern Vermont. With about two dozen employees working on the shop floor, production would drop significantly if two of their employees needed leave at the same time. If orders couldn’t be filled promptly, customers disappear, crushing their hopes of competing with larger companies.
This second-generation, family-owned business says it is very flexible when employees need leave. One worker recently had to drive a family member to medical treatments so the employer juggled schedules to accommodate that need.
Legislation under consideration in Montpelier is extreme, and it would create significant challenges to meet the company’s production goals. This business fears it could even cause reputational harm if relations deteriorate with clients.
Large businesses with lots of employees who aren’t specially trained may not have a tough time with such an extensive leave policy. That’s not true in the case of many Vermont small businesses. Passing House Bill 107 threatens the existence of smaller companies that contribute so much to the state economy, and employ 59 percent of the state’s workforce.
Shawn Shouldice is state director with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, NFIB-Vermont, an association advocating on behalf of many small business members in the state.