Maryland Enacts Paid Sick Leave Law

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act took effect February 11, 2018. Pursuant to the Act, Maryland employers with 15 or more employees must provide employees with paid leave called “earned sick and safe leave.” The statute has many detailed requirements, as well as exceptions and carve-outs.

Under the statute, employees shall accrue earned sick and safe leave of at least one hour for every 30 hours worked, but an employer is not required to allow an employee to accrue more than 40 hours of earned sick and safe leave in a year. An employer also may not be required to allow an employee to use more than 64 hours of earned sick and safe leave in a year or accrue more than 64 hours of earned sick and safe leave at any time. At the end of a year, employees may carry forward the balance of earned sick and safe leave to the following year, but the employer may prohibit employees from carrying forward more than 40 hours. There are a number of other provisions related to the accrual of leave. For example, after an employee terminates employment, there are circumstances where leave may be reinstated. In addition, hours may not be accrued if an employee works less than a certain number of hours during a pay period. Also by way of example, the total amount of leave may be granted in a lump sum at the beginning of the year.

“Earned sick and safe leave” takes on a broader meaning than several other leave statutes. For example, leave may be used to obtain services related to addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, not only for the employee, but the employee’s family member. It also covers mental and physical illnesses, injuries, or conditions, both for the employee and the employee’s family member.

For employers with less than 15 employees, they must provide the “earned sick and safe leave,” but the leave can be unpaid. In addition, employees who are under the age of 18 before the beginning of the year are not considered “employees” under the statute. There are a number of job title and industry exceptions as well.

Employees are required to provide employers with “reasonable advance notice” of the need for leave, but employers cannot require more than seven days advance notice before the leave is to begin. If the need for leave is not foreseeable, employees are required to provide notice “as soon as practicable” and generally comply with the employer’s notice or procedural requirements for requesting other forms of leave. The employer may deny the request for leave if the employee fails to comply with the notice requirements or the employee’s absence will “cause a disruption to the employer.” There are other exceptions where employers may deny the request for leave if they provide services to developmentally disabled or mentally ill individuals.

The statute permits employers not to modify existing leave policies if they allow employees to accrue and use leave under terms and conditions that are “at least equivalent to the earned sick and safe leave provided for under” the statute or if the employer’s paid leave policy does not reduce employee compensation for an absence due to sick or safe leave. Employers are required to provide notice to employees that they are eligible for earned sick and safe leave. A sample notice is available on the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (“DLLR”) website. Other guidance also has been provided by DLLR on its website.

If an employee believes a violation has occurred, the employee can file a complaint with DLLR. DLLR has the authority to issue orders of compliance and order monetary relief, as well as assess a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each employee for whom the employer is not in compliance. In civil actions filed in court, employees may be awarded three times the value of the employee’s unpaid earned sick and safe leave, punitive damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and injunctive relief, among other relief the court deems appropriate. The statute also includes an anti-retaliation provision.

This new statute is important for employers who have employees in Maryland. There are a number of detailed provisions that extend beyond the scope of what is described in this post. And, although guidance has been provided by DLLR, a number of questions remain regarding the interpretation and application of the statute. Businesses with employees in Maryland should be coordinating with their counsel regarding implementation of the statute.

If you have any questions regarding this post, please contact Stephen B. Stern at sstern@hwlaw.com or (410) 260-6585 or Amitis Darabnia at adarabnia@hwlaw.com or (410) 260-6592.

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