Maryland Employment Law Changes Take Effect October 1, 2019

Date: October 1, 2019
As you may recall, this past legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a number of employment laws of interest to Maryland employers.  Some, described below, take effect today, October 1, 2019.  Let’s take a closer look at these new laws.

Equal Pay Remedies and Enforcement Act – H.B. 790.
This new law scheduled to take effect on October 1, 2019, imposes civil penalties on top of existing back-pay remedies against employers who violate Maryland’s Equal Pay for Equal Work law.  Under existing Maryland law, employers must pay similarly situated employees the same wage, without regard to sex or gender.  If a judge or commissioner of labor and industry finds an employer in violation of the law, the employer is now liable for back pay in the amount of the difference between the wages paid to the employee of one sex or gender and the wages paid to employees of another sex or gender, as well as liquidated damages.  In addition, employers may also be subject to a fine of up to $300 and if they are found to have violated the law two or more times within a three (3) year period, additional civil penalties equal to 10% of the amount of the back paid damages may be assessed.

Gender Diversity in the Boardroom Act – S.B. 911.
On April 6, 2019, the General Assembly passed the Gender Diversity in the Boardroom Act to promote gender diversity in corporate management and boardrooms. In passing the Act, the General Assembly stated its belief that gender diversity on boards of directors is associated both with firm’s overall financial value and with better corporate governance. It also opined that the presence of female directors tends to increase the number of women in leadership positions within the company. The new Act requires employers to file a yearly report on the percentage of female representation on their boards of directors and make the report publicly available on the Maryland Comptroller’s website. It also urges, but not requires, Maryland employers to have at least 30% of the seats on their boards of directors occupied by women by the end of 2022.
Changes to Maryland’s Workplace Harassment Laws – S.B. 872/H.B. 679.
On April 3, 2019, the Maryland General Assembly passed amendments to Maryland’s Fair Employment Practices Act relating to workplace harassment prohibitions, liability, enforcement and prevention training. Governor Hogan signed these changes into law on April 30, 2019 to become effective on October 1, 2019.

Although many of the changes in the legislation are procedural, some go much further and in certain circumstances, impose strict liability on employers for harassment committed by an employee’s supervisor.

Who is a “supervisor” is broadly defined to include anyone who directs, supervises or evaluates the employee’s work. By creating this liability, the new Maryland law undercuts an employer’s defense to such claims that it promptly responded to the employees claim of harassment and/or the employee failed to follow the company’s harassment reporting procedure.

The amendments also expand the definition of “employer” to include employers with as few as one (1) employee and expands the definition of “employee” to include independent contractors, increases the statute of limitations for filing administrative complaints for workplace harassment with a state or local agency from six (6) months to two (2) years, as well as increasing the statute of limitations for filing a civil action for workplace harassment from two (2) years to three (3) years. Finally, the new law requires certain anti-harassment training for Maryland state employers.