.By Hilary Niles VTDigger.org
Employers planning layoffs in Vermont would be subject to new state notification requirements, under legislation going to a preliminary Senate vote this week.
A bill under consideration closely resembles federal rules that mandate 60 days notice before companies implement mass layoffs of 50 or more employees. The Vermont legislation would require 45 days advance warning to state officials and 30 days notice to local leaders, employees and any unions whose membership would be affected.
All Vermont businesses with 50 or more employees would be subject to the requirement. The number of employees counts full-time and part-time workers or a combination of both, as long as the part-time employees work at least 1,040 hours per year.
A seasonal employer whose layoff does not exceed 20 weeks is not affected. If an employee is offered the chance to relocate to a different site within 35 miles, that job would not count toward the “mass layoff” of 50 or more workers.
The bill arose at the request of Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan. WARN stands for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification.
Senate Economic Development Committee Chair Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said the bill would help the Labor Department respond more effectively to layoffs.
“There was a lot of frustration last year after not being able to get information from IBM about the layoffs there,” Mullin said Monday. He said the bill as it stands is a compromise between what the Labor Department asked for and how the business community responded.
William Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, said by email Monday that his organization still feels the legislation is unnecessary, but recognizes the compromises reached.
“We appreciate how both the House Commerce and then the Senate Economic Development Committee made a number of improvements to the bill to address practical compliance and fairness issues,” Driscoll said.
Less than 3.5 percent of Vermont businesses would be subject to the new law, Noonan underscored.
About 741 private businesses in Vermont employed 50 or more workers in 2013, according to data from the Vermont Department of Labor. They collectively employed more than 116,000 people — just under half of the state’s private industry workforce. Smaller businesses accounted for more positions: about 129,000 in all, among almost 22,000 private businesses.