Parental Leave Act
The Parental Leave Act (PLA) passed by the Maryland General Assembly, applies to smaller employers with between 15-49 employees and requires those companies to provide employees with six weeks of unpaid leave per year for the birth or adoption of a child. In order to be eligible for PLA protection, an employee must have been with the company for at least 12 months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year, prior to taking leave. Geography also comes into play: an employee requesting leave must be employed at a Maryland work location at which at least 15 employees operate within a 75-mile radius. If the worksite is within 75 miles of an associated office outside the state, and no more than 49 employees work between the two locations, workers may be covered by the FMLA and PLA simultaneously. In this case, an employee’s PLA and FMLA leaves for the birth of a child would run concurrently, and may also coincide with paid time off. An employer may require an employee give at least 30 days’ notice for the need for leave. This should not pose a problem for anyone expecting or planning on adopting a child, as dates can be estimated months in advance; but notice is not required in exceptional cases such as a premature birth or an unanticipated adoption. An employer may deny requested leave on the grounds that an employee’s extended absence would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury to [the company’s] operations.” If an employer violates the PLA, an employee has the right to take private action, but cannot hold supervisors personally liable. The law also allows an employee to seek damages including salary, wages, benefits, and any unaccounted-for compensation, along with the PLA-mandated award of reasonable legal costs and attorney fees. Small employers should start preparing for PLA immediately: develop a written leave request policy and process; document all requests, denials, and approvals; and instruct all management and supervisory staff on the law—or else your business can face serious liability.
Fairness for All Marylanders Act
Also effective October 1, 2014, is The Fairness for All Marylanders Act which prohibits Maryland employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees on the basis of gender identity. The term “gender identity” is broadly defined as “the gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth, which may be demonstrated by (1) consistent and uniform assertion of the person’s gender identity; or (2) any other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of the person’s core identity.” The law also states that employers may continue to require employees to adhere to “reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards that are directly related to the nature of the employment of the employee, and are not precluded by any provision of state or federal law as long as the employer allows the employee to appear, to groom, and to dress consistent with the employee’s gender identity.” An exemption to this law is granted to religious entities, meaning such entities are permitted to discriminate based on gender identity so long as the work in question is connected to religious activities. This exemption protects the constitutional separation of church and state. The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights is responsible for the law’s enforcement. Similar laws have already gone into effect in the City of Baltimore, as well as Montgomery, Howard and Frederick Counties for a couple years.
Minimum Wage Increases in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties
Mandatory increases to minimum wage are coming to Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Beginning October 1, 2014, affected employees must be paid a higher wage when eligible. In Montgomery County, the higher wage applies to workers and work performed in the county, even if the employer is not located there. The increase will exceed the federal and state minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour), and will climb higher in annual steps. Increases break down as follows: ● October 1st, 2014: $8.40/hr ● 2015: $9.55/hr ● 2016: $10.75/hr ● 2017: $11.50 P.G. County’s program parallels the law in Montgomery, except that it applies only to employers located in the county. All other aspects of the change remain the same. So what if you have multiple locations, or if employees travel from one site to another? As an employer, you can set different wages depending on the location of work. Handling compensation for employees who work inside and out of the counties is the tricky part. Since the real difference amounts to only about $0.40/hour—probably not significant enough to merit a challenge to paying the higher wage—it might be more practical to pay the higher wage to the (presumably) few employees affected. In the meantime, employers have several alternative payment options: you may choose to pay employees two different wages depending on where the work takes place, or pay the higher wage to county residents—and not others—who work in the affected counties. Another interpretation, also used by the Federal Department of Labor, determines compensation based on “the predominant efforts of an employee.” In other words, if an employee spent more than 50% of her time in Montgomery or P.G. County, she would be paid the higher wage for all hours worked. This legislation may be invalidated by its problematic enforcement: the state does not have to enforce county laws, and comparable efforts to compel Maryland to do so have failed in the past. Unless the increases are applied to businesses wholly in either county, a legal argument could be made that wage hikes may not be considered lawful local laws—and may even violate the state law. Disputes notwithstanding, business owners would do their best to stay out of noncompliance and, starting October 1st, increase wages per county requirement. Note that Maryland’s statewide minimum wage is increasing as well, beginning January 1, 2015: ● January 1st: $8.00/hr ● July 2016 $8.75/hr ● July 2017: $9.25/hr ● July 2018: $10.10/hr This law also caps the base pay for tipped workers at 50% of the federal minimum wage, or $3.63/hr. Businesses are also allowed to pay workers under 20 years of age a lower “training wage,” which is 85% of the state’s minimum wage at the time, during the first six months of employment.
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