Nearly 97 percent of Vermont’s businesses are classified as “small” according to the Small Business Association (SBA). Statistics provided by the SBA report that between 2010 and 2013 Vermont had 77,726 small businesses and that, of that number, 60,067 businesses were without employees. These businesses primarily survive through contract work with other business entities. H.867 was written to protect Vermont’s cottage business industries and to protect an individual’s right to self-contract.
The days of a single contractor building a home from foundation to roof are no longer. Homes are built by teams and individuals with specific skills and knowledge; team development is based upon the elements of design selected by the homeowners. Last year the Home Builders and Remodelers of Northern and Southern Vermont launched a public relations campaign to bring awareness to a policy of the Vermont Department of Labor that forced independent contractors into “employee” status, regardless of the fact that they self-identified as self-employed business entities.
Home Builders were not the only sector in conflict with the Department of Labor: the tech sector, farmers and even artists all found themselves facing findings that ran contrary to their personal choice to remain self-employed.
There are appropriate laws in place – that should remain in place – to protect workers from unfair employment practices. H.867 would be a major step towards defining Vermont’s workforce of the future. The legislation revisits the definitions of “employee” and “independent contractor” for the purposes of workers’ compensation coverage and unemployment insurance for all sectors impacted by the current state Department of Labor audits.
H.867 is not a panacea, but it is a crucial chapter in further defining Vermont’s workforce now and in the future. The bill creates a specific definition for an independent contractor while preserving the protections we want for all workers. It allows employers to pay their fair share of the costs. Provisions in the bill levy stiff fines against poor employer practices; yet the definitions of the employee vs. independent contractor in H.867 clarify the rules so an employer looking to provide a service can clearly understand when it is appropriate to hire an employee and provide the necessary benefits required by law.
H.867, a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Bennington), chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, is the product of months of collaboration with diverse stakeholders and a thorough legislative review. The bill was voted out of committee on March 11 with a unanimous 11 to 0 vote. It’s time for approval by the Vermont House. Contact your Representatives and encourage them to act on H.867 and allow Vermont’s small business economy to thrive!
Maureen Cregan Connolly, executive officer, Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont