Employers must be aware of, and revise their employment-related documents to reflect, the recent changes to Maryland and federal law. One of a Company’s most powerful way to deter future litigation is by ensuring that its agreements, handbooks, and policies are legally compliant.
Companies often face claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by their employees. As such, it is imperative that employers are cognizant of the Maryland legislature’s substantial expansion of anti-discrimination and harassment laws. With the passage of SB 450, the Maryland legislature adopted a less stringent standard of determining harassment, allowing employees to establish that they have been the subject of harassment based on the “totality of the circumstances.” Additionally, Maryland has imposed greater requirements for employers to reasonably accommodate not only employees’ disabilities but also an applicants’ disabilities. Finally, the Office of the Attorney General can now independently initiate investigations of federal and state civil rights violations and file a lawsuit on behalf of the employees in Maryland, making it even more essential that employers properly handle complaints of discrimination.
Although Maryland has long disfavored the use of non-competition agreements, it has recently made non-compete and conflict of interest provisions unenforceable against employees earning less than 150% of the state’s applicable minimum wage. The legislature has also taken great strides to provide paid time off for employees requiring medical leave for themselves or for those of eligible family members. The Time to Care Act created a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program (FAMLI), pursuant to which eligible employees would receive twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave, with the possibility of 12 additional weeks of paid parental leave (for a possible of 24 weeks of paid leave). Under the FAMLI rules, contributions will be made by employees and employers with 15 or more employees, as well as self-employed individuals who opt-in to the program. Employees who work for a company with less than 15 employees will make the full contributions themselves. Contributions will commence on October 1, 2024, with benefits first becoming available as of January 1, 2026.
Further, employers should be cognizant of the far-reaching implications of the Maryland Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Amaya v. DGS Construction, LLC. The Court’s unanimous ruling has opened the door for employees to seek payment of wages for time spent waiting at a jobsite and/or traveling to and from a client’s worksite under certain conditions. As such, employers should adjust their hourly reporting and wage payment practices to avoid potential and costly wage-and-hour liability. Maryland’s employment laws punish wage hour violations severely, awarding an aggrieved employee up to three times the back wage owed, plus attorney’s fees, unless the employer can prove there was a bona fide dispute that led to the non-payment. It is highly unlikely that an employer can provide a bona fide reason for waiting and travel time.
Finally, new federal laws provide greater protections to employees who are pregnant and/or nursing. The federal PUMP Act provides additional protections to lactating employees and places a heavier burden on employers to make sure that such employees are provided with adequate time to express milk and an appropriate place to do so. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires companies to provide reasonable accommodations to a worker’s “known limitations” due to pregnancy.
The employment law landscape changes at a rapid rate. Employers frequently face lawsuits because they are unaware of, and subsequently fail to provide employees with, their legally protected rights. Keeping your employment-related documents legally compliant creates a powerful impediment to future litigation.