The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act became law in our state as of February 11th. This law requires all public and private employers to provide paid and unpaid earned sick and safe leave to eligible employees. According to the new law, an eligible employee can use earned sick and safe time for medical needs, such as, employee or family members mental and physical illness, injury, or medical visits including preventive care. As well, the law provides for maternity or paternity leave (to bond with a child). Other reasons for time-off include recovering from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking (including physical and mental health care needs, obtaining victim or legal services, attending legal proceedings, and time needed for relocation).
While Montgomery County had a law in place for the county for about two years, Maryland becomes the eight state to pass such a law. Similar laws are in effect in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have also joined into this progressive movement.
The law requires employers with 15 employees or more to provide paid time off for any of the reasons stated above; with smaller employers providing unpaid time off. Employees earn one hour of time for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of 40 hours within a 12-month period. Under the terms of the law, employees are able to carry over a maximum of 24 hours into the following year for a maximum of 64 hours.
For the most part, I have summarized the major points of this new law, however, it’s always a good idea to consult with local labor attorneys to ensure that your respective time off policies are compliant to it. Now that I have explained the components, let’s explore some of the ramifications.
As someone who has lived in a social democratic country for three years (The Netherlands), I had grown accustom to such laws, and even those that are far more generous to employees. With the European way of life so much different than ours culturally, employers, for the most part, willingly comply with these employee-favorable rules of engagement. But we are not in Europe, are we? Unbelievably, we work in a country where most women who take off for 12 weeks to have a child are harshly judged when they return to work. Coworkers resent they have to pick up extra work while a new mother is out, and managers resent they have to find a way to cover for the time off.
With the MHWFA, an employee can take off for many more reasons than FMLA, and, under the provisions of the law, employees are not necessarily required to provide documentation for the time requested. Depending on how employers implement the law, managers are bracing themselves for impact. It is difficult enough for employers to keep their staffing needs in order. With the MHWFA, the challenges have potential to become even trickier. How will management and coworkers treat employees for using this protected time off? This remains to be seen.
Specific to the non-exempt (hourly) employee population, if an employer, hypothetically chooses to allow employees to use the time off in one-hour increments, this employee, after accruing this time, can call out stating “Sick and Safe Leave” up to 40-times in a 12-month period without any repercussions. The employee must declare the Sick and Safe Leave time; the burden is not on management to ask. Will employees take advantage of the new law? One would hope not. I am certain lawmakers passed this law to protect employees in a time of need, to protect them from any punitive actions an employer might take when things are not going so well for the employee or his/her family members.
While I am personally excited Maryland has taken a step in the direction of more employee protections, the jury is still out on just what the impact will be to employers over time. We are in the early stages of implementation across the state. Most employees are probably not yet aware of the law, but once they are able to view this new leave type on their paystubs (or other variation), it will quickly become known. It will quite interesting to revisit how the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act has affected the workplace in a year.