Sophie E. Zdatny, Esq., Contributor

Governor Shumlin signed the Equal Pay Act bill into law on May 14, 2013 at a conference held by the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility on the University of Vermont’s campus.  In signing the bill, Governor Shumlin noted that as a father of daughters, the Equal Pay Act is as important to fathers as it is to mothers. He also highlighted that the new law allows employees to inquire about flexible working arrangements without fear of jeopardizing their jobs.

Equal Pay.  The new law amends Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act to provide that an employer may pay different wage rates to employees of different sexes only where the differential wages are based on: (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system in which earnings are based on quality or quality of production; or (iv) a bona fide factor other than sex.

Employers will now be required to demonstrate that any differential in wages is based on a factor that “does not perpetuate a sex-based differential in compensation, is job-related with respect to the position in question, and is based upon a legitimate business consideration.”

Wage Inquiries.  Under the new law, employers cannot require, as a condition of employment, that its employees not disclose the amount of their wages to their co-workers or that they not inquire about or discuss the wages of other employees.  However, an employer may prohibit a human resources manager from disclosing the wages of other employees.  The new law would not otherwise require an employee to disclose the amount of his or her wages in response to an inquiry from another employee.

Flexible Working Arrangements.  The law also provides that employees may request flexible working arrangements, i.e. an intermediate or long-term change in the employee’s regular working arrangements.  This may include changes in the number of days or hours worked, changes in the time the employee arrives at or leaves work, working from home, or job-sharing. It does not include vacation, routine scheduling of shifts, or other forms of employee leave.

Employers are required to discuss their employees’ requests in good faith and may propose alternative arrangements during the discussion.  Employers must consider requests that would not be inconsistent with business operations or their legal or contractual obligations.  The term “inconsistent with business operations” includes the imposition of additional costs on the employer, a detrimental effect on aggregate employee morale, a negative impact on the employer’s ability to meet consumer demand, an inability to reorganize work among existing staff or recruit additional staff, a detrimental impact on business quality or business performance, a lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work, and planned structural changes to the business.

Paid Leave Study.  Finally, the new law creates a Committee to study the issue of paid leave in Vermont and to make recommendations regarding whether and how paid family leave may benefit Vermont citizens.  Its report is due by January 15, 2014, in time for next year’s legislative session.

Sophie E. Zdatny, Esq., Employment Law Group