3.24.2017 – Accommodations for Pregnancy, PathStone, and Avian Influenza

This crossover week was marked by many hours spent of the Floor of the House. Again, a wide variety of bills came before us as we worked our way through the daily calendars. A couple of the bills required significant debate. One of those was a bill that would “require employers to provide an accommodation to a pregnant employee unless the accommodation would impose undue hardship on the employer”.

This generated more conversation than might have been expected but it revealed some interesting details. The March of Dimes provided a fact sheet that made a strong case for why we should move ahead with this legislation and I will provide some of those details from their information. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the last 30 years has seen a marked increase in the number of women in the work force who have children under the age of three. That number rose from 34.3% in 1975 to 60.9% in 2011. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that in four of ten households with children, mothers have become the sole or primary income provider.

Another interesting fact is that more first-time mothers are working late into their pregnancies. The United State Census Bureau indicated that between 2006 and 2008, 88% of pregnant women worked into their last trimester and 65% worked into their last month of pregnancy. The number of women who worked during their pregnancy and then went back to work three months after their child’s birth has increased dramatically. Between 2005 and 2007, 58.6% returned to work three months after giving birth and 72.9% returned six months after giving birth. Between 1971 and 1975 those numbers were 24.1% and 32.1%, respectively, more than doubling.

All of these facts point to why accommodations for pregnant women are more important than ever. Healthy pregnancies save Vermont significant health care costs by reducing the number of premature births, birth defects, and infant mortality. The Institute of Medicine reports that, nationally, employers spend more than $12 billion on claims involving prematurity and complicated births.

Quoting from the bill, “reasonable accommodation” means “the changes and modifications which can be made in the structure of a job or in the manner in which a job is performed” and “may include more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, assistance with manual labor, modified work schedules, or the provision of unpaid leave in addition to any leave provided pursuant to federal law”.

This is offset by a provision that allows for a claim of “undue hardship” for employers. Factors that determine undue hardship include the size of the employer’s business relative to the number of employees, the number and type of business facilities, budget size, and the cost for the accommodation required. Ultimately, the bill passed on a vote of 97-44 and is on its way to the Senate.

During the time not spent on the Floor, we learned about an organization known as PathStone (www.pathstone.org). In fact, no one on our committee was familiar with this agency so it made sense to spread the word about the valuable opportunities it might offer for some folks. According to PathStone’s brochure, they are “a private, non-profit agency which administers the National Farmworker Jobs Program in the State of Vermont. This is a training and employment program exclusively for agriculture workers. The purpose of this program is to provide vocational training and supportive services to members of the agricultural community, in order to prepare them today, for the ever changing business world of tomorrow”.

Agricultural workers who would like training to improve or advance their skills should contact PathStone at 877-764-4109. James Cooper is the Training and Employment Manager and he can be reached at jcooper@pathstone.org.

Some of the courses offered in the Agriculture Skills Upgrade program include training in farm tractor safety, Commercial Drivers A and B Licenses, and Good Agriculture Practices. Certifications in forklift operation, pesticide application, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration training are also available. Qualified farm employees may be provided this training at no cost to the employer if there is an agreement to increase wages and/or hours based on the new skills gained. The goal is to make a more productive workplace as a result of a more efficient, skilled employee and a better living for the farm worker and their family. On-the-job training and occupational skills training are also available.

As spring approaches, one thing to be aware of is the discovery this year of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza (HPAI) in Lincoln County, Tennessee. We have been cognizant that this was a possibility for a while – there were incidences of avian flu in the Midwest last year. As wild birds, in particular water fowl, begin to migrate north, we should be knowledgeable of possible problems. This is in no way meant to cause panic – just awareness and watchfulness.

State Veterinarian, Dr. Kristin Haas said, “Fortunately, no cases have been reported in Vermont and we recommend that all bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, continue to practice good biosecurity and prevent contact between their birds and wild birds.”

Those of us who keep chickens and/or other poultry should be aware of the symptoms and report sickness in birds or unusual bird deaths to Dr. Haas’s office at the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets – 802-828-2421. There is no known impact on human health but HPAI is extremely contagious in poultry. Symptoms include sudden death without any signs; lack of coordination; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; lack of energy and appetite; diarrhea; swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks; nasal discharge; decreased egg production; and/or coughing and sneezing.