by Kim Lawson, VWC Hotline Coordinator

Volunteers on the Workers Rights Hotline answer phone calls from workers who are feel they have been mistreated on the job. We get all sorts of questions. Some questions are asked often and are easy to answer. For example:

Q: Can my boss just fire me with no reason or because he doesn’t like me?
A: Without a Union, that is true. It’s called “employment at will.”

Or this one.

Q: My boss doesn’t give us a lunch break – isn’t that illegal?
A: No. Vermont does not require employers to provide any breaks beyond a “reasonable time” to go to the bathroom, etc.

Some questions are more difficult to answer, in fact we are asked questions that stump us on a fairly regular basis. Then we have to go looking for the answers and those answers are often surprising. Here are a few of the things VWC Hotline volunteers have recently learned:

  • Auto mechanics, car salespeople and parts salespeople who work at car dealerships are explicitly excluded from the right to time and a half (overtime) after 40 hours of work in a week. Mechanics at garages that are not part of a dealership are entitled to overtime after 40 hours of work.
  • Unless you have a union contract or employee handbook that says otherwise, the boss can legally not pay out any accumulated vacation, personal or other paid leave days to you if you quit your job or are fired.
  • An employer who offers housing and deducts the cost of that housing from a pay check can only deduct the difference between the workers’ wage and Vermont’s minimum wage plus $19.85 a week. So a worker at a ski resort who earns $8.25 an hour and charged for housing can only legally be charged the difference between the wage paid and minimum wage (in this example 8.25 minus 7.25 or $1 per hour ($40 a week) plus $19.85 for a total of $59.85 a week. This is far less than many ski resorts charge their employees. For workers who receive reduced day care rates when day care is provided for a fee, the formula is the same.
  • While many employees cannot collect Unemployment Insurance when they quit their jobs, they sometimes can file and receive unemployment when the reason for quitting was a significant reduction in pay and/or benefits.
  • Recently, the Vermont legislature voted to classify newspaper delivery workers as subcontractors. The result is that now newspaper delivery workers are exempt from most wage and hour protections.

We’re sure we’ll get more questions at the hotline that we won’t be able to answer right away. We’re learning all the time. As we learn interesting facts and information, we’ll pass it along.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a hotline volunteer, we’ll train you how to answer the calls, record the information and find answers. Your time commitment can be as little as 2 hours every other week. If you’re interested, call me, the Hotline Coordinator, at (802) 658-6788.