Office of the Vermont Attorney General

CAP Small Business Help

TJ at Dan and Whit's Store

Attorney General T.J. Donovan talks with George Fraser at Dan and Whit’s store in Norwich, VT

“The best way to enforce the law in Vermont is to give people the opportunity to comply with it.”

-Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Attorney General TJ Donovan has launched a new initiative to help small businesses understand and comply with Vermont law, solve problems and connect to resources, and navigate State government.

We are listening and learning about better ways the Attorney General can assist small businesses. We are meeting with businesses, trade associations and business groups in every corner of Vermont.  We will work to solve problems that small businesses perceive. We cannot provide legal advice, but we can provide small businesses with information and answers to common questions.

Find Answers Here:

Acquiring Commercial Property

Doing your due diligence before making a financial commitment to a commercial space is imperative to avoiding unexpected and unwelcome surprises.  Use your community of resources to get quality information before you commit.

Follow this five-point checklist to determine whether permits are required for you to locate your business where and how you’d like:

If you get assistance early and often from these knowledgeable sources, you can determine time, cost and feasibility for acquiring municipal and State permits – in turn avoiding unexpected expenses and unanticipated and uncontrollable delays.

Agricultural Industry Resources

Working with a variety of stakeholders, CAP has compiled this list of resources for some of the most pressing concerns in the agricultural industry. Know a link or issue that should be included? Email AGO.smallbusiness@vermont.gov.

Ban the Box

Employers are not permitted to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history on an initial employment application form. This gives fair consideration to promising candidates with a criminal history.

TJ was a strong advocate for this law, which is in line with his criminal justice reform ideals. If your business is interested in giving folks another chance — check out our plain language informationWorking Fields LLC is another excellent resource, and you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

Here is the complete Fair Employment Practices statute.

Cause-related Marketing

If your business is fundraising for a cause, you must be sure to clearly state the charitable organization’s name, the amount that will be donated, and if there is a maximum donation amount. Examples and additional information can be found on this website.

Here is a link to the complete cause-related marketing statute (see Subchapter 6).

COVID-19 Guidance

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unsettling and challenging time for small businesses. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a page devoted to businesses here. Below are some additional topics to consider. This page will be regularly updated as new information is available. If you have specific questions not answered here, please contact our Consumer Assistance Program’s Small Business Initiative for help at 800-649-2424 or ago.cap@vermont.gov. We can provide information, assistance, or a referral.

Don’t be tempted to price gouge

Inflating the prices of essential goods and services during a market crisis is called “price gouging.” It is a violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act. Price gouging of petroleum products, such as heating fuel, is explicitly banned by statute when there is a market emergency. You can find the statute here.

Are you the victim of price gouging?

In Vermont, businesses are considered consumers in the eyes of the law. This means that a business that faces price gouging in its own purchasing with respect to items it uses (but does not re-sell) has protections under the Consumer Protection Act. For example, if you try to purchase essential supplies during the COVID-19 crisis, like bleach wipes or hand sanitizer, and the seller is inflating prices, you may have protections under the Consumer Protection Act. If you encounter price gouging by a supplier, please alert the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 or ago.cap@vermont.gov.

Allowing employees time off

Vermont statute requires employers to provide earned sick leave to employees. Our plain language guide on Earned Sick Leave can be found here. The full statute can be found here.

Regardless of whether an employee has earned sick time, during this pandemic we recommend that employers permit employees time off when symptomatic.

Continuity planning

In the event that your business will need to temporarily close or if key personnel are absent due to COVID-19 concerns, you should have a continuity plan in place. This will ensure that your operations will continue as smoothly as possible. The Small Business Administration’s post on continuity planning is a good starting place. The nonprofit SCORE also offers a “Small Business Disaster Preparedness Resource.”

To protect your business from being a victim to a scam, it is important to establish internal processes to ensure payments are being sent to valid sources.  This may include placing a verification phone call to a number you trust of the requesting party and requiring three or more individuals to be involved in money transfer approvals. More information about COVID-19 scams can be found below.

Contracts best practices

During this pandemic, cancellation of events may be unpredictable. In business transactions, it is best to get expectations in a written agreement.

Limiting hoarding

It’s ok to limit how much of a product a customer can purchase if you disclose the limitation. We recommend a clear sign in large font posted close to the product.

COVID-19 scams

Unfortunately, in times of emergency we can expect an increase in scams. We urge businesses and employees to be on the look-out for imposter scams in which a scammer poses as a company’s CEO, manager, or other internal employee. The scammer convinces an employee to wire money. Scammers may also target remote workers by getting them to agree to pay fake invoices or solicitations in the guise of a bill. They may also convince the remote workers to respond to scam telemarketers “verifying” an address, but really signing businesses up for services.

Another potential scam to be on the look-out for is the government poster scam. Scammers call or fax, saying the federal government requires posters to be posted in a visible location at their business. Scammers may make up new requirements, declaring that the federal government has new requirements due the pandemic that must be followed and that businesses need to pay a fee to fulfill such requirement. There are free COVID-19 posters available on the CDC website currently.

In addition to these business-oriented scams, there are two COVID-19 scams to be careful of. The first is fake charity appeals that supposedly help people or communities impacted by the emergency. For more information on charities scams, see our CAP Connection blog post.

Another type of scam you might encounter are fake treatments or cures for COVID-19. If you are solicited by a scammer, please make a scam report with the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 or ago.cap@vermont.gov.

Credit Card Equipment Leases

On July 1, 2018 a new law went into effect that provides small businesses with 45 days to cancel a credit card equipment lease. The new law also gives small businesses more, and clearer, information about the terms of the credit card equipment lease.

Some of the highlights of the law are:

  • Disclosure of whether the terminal can be purchased and if so, the cost of purchase;
  • Contact information for the parties;
  • An explanation of the salesperson’s relationship to the entity financing the lease;
  • A prohibition of “forum shopping,” which refers to some finance companies’ practice of a 45-day cancellation period. This is designed to allow a merchant to receive a bank statement so they can see how much is actually being debited from their account before committing to a 4-year lease; including in the contract a clause that chooses a court with laws more favorable to it than to the merchant;
  • Requiring a reasonable font size.

Here is the complete Credit Card Terminal Finance Leases statute

If you entered into a credit card equipment lease before July 1, 2018, the new law does not apply. However, you still have a right to cancel every sale made either in person or by phone within three days of the sale. The seller must provide you with notice of this right. If you did not receive such notice, then you may cancel your lease at any time until that notice is provided.

Vermont businesses seeking more information can check out our plain language information, and here is the complete three day right to cancel statute.

Cybersecurity

Cyber criminals target businesses of all sizes. The Federal Trade Commission has developed guidance and materials to help you protect your business.

Data Broker Regulation

On January 1, 2019, a new law went into effect that requires Data Brokers to register with the Vermont Secretary of State annually and maintain certain minimum data security standards. The deadline for registering was January 31, 2019. Registration can be completed on the Secretary of State’s website.

Our office released guidance to assist Data Brokers in complying with Vermont’s new Data Broker Regulations. If you’re still unsure if your business falls within the definition of “Data Broker,” you can email AGO.Info@vermont.gov or call 802.828.3171 for help.

Here is the complete Data Broker Regulation statute.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Vermont allows employers to test current employees for alcohol or drugs only in very limited circumstances, where the employer has in place a detailed and specific set of protocols and procedures. Random drug testing is explicitly prohibited. Check out our plain language information on drug and alcohol testing, written for employers.

Here is the complete drug testing statute (see Subchapter 11).

Earned Sick Leave

Employers must accrue earned sick leave for all employees–at least one hour of sick leave for every 52 hours an employee actually works. It can be used for the employee or their family, during illness, for obtaining health care or long-term care, traveling to an appointment, or addressing the effects of domestic violence or stalking. Employers seeking more information can check out our plain language information.

Here is the complete Earned Sick Leave statute.

Gift Certificates

If your business issues gift certificates or gift cards, they cannot expire sooner than five years from being issued. The expiration date must be printed on the certificate or card. Upon expiration, the remaining value must be refunded. There are exceptions for certain kinds of promotional gift certificates. If no expiration date appears, then the law treats the certificate or card as not having an expiration date.

Here is the complete Gift Certificates statute.

Hiring Your First Employee

You’ve established a business as a sole proprietor in Vermont. Even better – you’re growing and need to hire your first employee. We’ve put together the steps you need to take to comply with Federal and State laws.

Businesses are also encouraged to speak with an accountant and/or attorney to assure compliance. These folks can also help with best practices and policies for: the hiring process, personnel issues, recordkeeping and insurance.

Landlord Restoration Program

The Landlord Restoration Program (Program) launched in 2017 by the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health. The Program provided: (i) information and resources to landlords, (ii) extended time for repairs, and (iii) a waiver of state enforcement for past non-compliance. The Program, which concluded in 2018, was piloted in five Vermont towns that had elevated blood lead levels in children: Rutland, Bennington, Bellows Falls/Windsor, Barre, and St. Albans. Compliance rates suggest that the pilot program was effective in increasing property owner compliance. Compliance rates went up by an average of 14%, with several towns seeing around 20% increases.

A copy of the complete report on the Landlord Restoration Program can be found here.

More information on Vermont’s Lead Law is available here.

Nursing Moms

Vermont businesses are required to offer nursing mothers time and private space to express breast milk for three years from the birth of their child. Employers seeking more information can check out our plain language information, this quick-reference factsheet, and solutions sorted by industry.

Employers cannot discriminate against an employee who exercises her right. If this right is violated, employees can contact the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit at 802-828-3657 or 888-745-9195.

Here is the complete Nursing mothers in the workplace statute.

Pregnant Employees

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Examples of accomodations include permitting additional breaks or providing equipment to fulfill essential functions of the job. Employers can check out our plain language information for additional details.

Here is a PDF of the bill as enacted, and this site will link to the online statute when available.

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

We created video guidance aimed at assisting Vermont employers in understanding workplace sexual harassment laws.  The video, entitled Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, provides businesses with an overview of Vermont’s current workplace sexual harassment laws and summarizes employers’ obligations under the law. Comments or questions should be directed to our Civil Rights Unit at ago.civilrights@vermont.gov.

According to the Vermont Department of Labor, all Vermont employers are required to display specific workplace right posters. Here is the Vermont Department of Labor’s Sexual Harassment is Illegal poster and Sexual Harassment Model Policy for employers.

Recreational Marijuana

Are you a business owner with questions about the marijuana laws that took effect July 1st? Our office released guidance aimed at assisting employers in navigating Vermont’s new recreational marijuana laws.

We welcome public input on the new guidance to ensure employers and employees have a fair chance to comply with their legal obligations and exercise their rights. Comments or questions should be directed to our Civil Rights Unit at ago.civilrights@vermont.gov.

Here is the complete Act 86 (An act relating to eliminating penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older).

Scams Affecting Businesses

Vermont businesses regularly report scams, including utility disconnection threats, unsolicited/fake invoices, fake orders of goods or services, imposters of business personnel, and IRS debt collection scams. It is important that businesses establish internal processes to ensure any payments are being sent to valid sources!

Check out our Stopping Scams page for more information.

Top 10 Scams Reported by Businesses in 2018

Security Breaches

If your business suffers a security breach, you must notify the Attorney General within 14 days of discovery and the affected customers within 45 days of discovery. You can notify the Attorney General via email to AGO.DataSecurity@vermont.gov or by telephone 802-828-5479. There are a handful of additional requirements and we are happy to walk you through them. Additional resources can be found on the Attorney General’s Privacy and Data Security webpage.

Other helpful resources include the #WhatTheHack slide deck from Tech Jam on 10/20/2017 and the Anatomy of a Data Breach presentation from Tech Jam on 10/19/2018. Here is the complete Vermont Security Breach Notice Act.

Small Business Loans

There are an increasing number of commercial loans available to Vermont businesses. A number of commercial lenders offer “quick loans” or “EZ cash” via the internet (or use spam email, pop-up ads, or text messages). In some instances, the company may be soliciting commercial loans on behalf of a lender.  Here in Vermont, commercial lenders and loan solicitors are required to be licensed, or otherwise exempt from licensure AND must clearly state rates, terms, and conditions. Here is information on how to protect yourself from illegal loans.

Social Media Privacy

Employees are under no obligation to share their personal, social media accounts with their employers. Employers cannot require employees or job applicants to: access social media accounts in front of them, “friend” or “follow” them, or adjust account privacy settings in order to make posts publicly visible. Employers can require social media access that is mandated by law and for certain bona fide investigations. Here is the complete statute.

Unsolicited Merchandise Protection

If you received a product you did not order, you can refuse the delivery or dispose of the product without obligation to the seller. Conversely, if you receive a document that looks like a bill, invoice, or statement of account due, but is really just an offer to sell goods or services, then we want to hear about it.

Here is the complete Unsolicited Merchandise statute.

Vermont Origins

To qualify as a Vermont product, your item needs to be produced in-state with materials from Vermont and your company must have a substantial presence in the state. Vermont company names are permitted on non-Vermont products if they are accompanied by specified disclosures, so that consumers understand what they are buying. We encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to contact us with questions to assure fairness, compliance and accuracy in promoting brands and products.

Here is the complete Vermont Origins rule (see CP120).

Laws and Regulations

Want to learn more about Vermont’s consumer protection laws?

Check our Laws and Regulations page for links to state and federal statutes, as well as Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rules:

Read the laws here

Have another question you need answered? Email or call us!