Maryland Passes Paid-Sick-Leave Law

Employers with fewer than 15 workers will have to provide unpaid leave

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Maryland employers must soon provide sick and safe leave to their employees, as state legislators recently voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of the Healthy Working Families Act. Whether the leave must be paid depends on employer size.

With some exceptions, businesses in the state with 15 or more employees will have to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave to workers each year, and those with fewer employees must provide the same amount of time as unpaid leave.

"With the passing of the act, the state of Maryland has joined eight other states and several cities and counties in adopting laws mandating that employees receive a minimum amount of paid time off for reasons related to sickness and safety," said John Bolesta, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C.

Unless the Maryland General Assembly acts to delay its implementation, employers must comply with the act by Feb. 11. However, an emergency bill was introduced on Jan. 23 to delay enforcement until 60 days after the act takes effect.

Bolesta said there is a decent chance that the law will be delayed, but that he would be surprised to see any significant changes to the law during that time. "While some minor tweaks are certainly possible, I suspect the law will remain largely intact and the delay will merely serve to assist businesses … with compliance issues associated with the new law."

Employers should pay close attention to the details of the state's requirements because they may be different from those in other jurisdictions. "Complying with new laws, such as this one in Maryland, can become especially tricky for multistate employers," said Courtney Blanchard, an attorney with Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis. Employers can no longer simply rely on the federal laws; rather, they need to understand city, county and state requirements, too.

[SHRM members-only resource: Leave Laws by State and Municipality]

The Essentials

Employees ages 18 and older who regularly work 12 or more hours a week are eligible for leave under the act. Employees may accrue one hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 30 worked—up to 40 hours a year—and they may carry over up to 40 hours of accrued leave from one year to the next. Businesses may opt to provide 40 hours of leave as a lump sum at the start of a year.

Employers don't have to let new hires use accrued leave until the 106th calendar day after their start date. Employers also may require eligible employees to provide advance notice up to seven days before using the leave—if the need for leave is foreseeable.

Employers are required to notify employees that they're entitled to the sick and safe leave, as well as the rate of accrual. "Additionally, every pay period, employers are now required to provide individual reports in the form of written statements to their employees that detail the amount of earned leave available for use," Bolesta said.

Maryland employers must also keep three years' worth of records on the sick and safe leave that each employee uses.

The leave may be used to care for the employee's own or a family member's mental or physical illness or injury, parental leave, or issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Employers may need to update their attendance policies, because employees can't be disciplined for using leave in accordance with the new law, noted Kathleen Talty, an attorney with FordHarrison in Baltimore.  Employees may need to explain the reason for their absence—similar to how they would under the Family and Medical Leave Act, she said.

County Laws

Some counties in Maryland already had sick-leave laws. For instance, Montgomery County's local sick-leave law will overlap with the state's new law, and employers will need to adhere to the more generous provisions under the local law, Bolesta explained. 

Under the state's act, however, counties are now pre-empted from enacting their own sick- and safe-leave laws. The ban on local sick-leave laws applies retroactively to any enacted on or after Jan. 1, 2017, which includes Prince George's County's law. Montgomery County's law, however, was effective on Oct. 1, 2016, and will not be pre-empted. Thus, Montgomery County employers must adhere to both county and state requirements.  

Compliance Tips

"All employers need to review carefully their existing leave policies to determine whether they are compliant with the terms and conditions for accrual and uses listed in the new law," Talty said. "Payroll systems will need to be updated so that leave accrual and usage are properly captured and also to ensure that leave balances are correctly reported on employee pay stubs."

Bolesta noted that when employers revise their policies to incorporate the new sick-leave requirements, they should be aware that the definition of "family member" under the new law is far broader than the definition of "immediate family member" under the Maryland Flexible Leave Act. This means that employers cannot reject an employee's request to use sick and safe leave to care for, among others, grandparents, siblings, foster children or stepsiblings.

 

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