Paid Sick Leave Law Set to Take Effect

Date: February 9, 2018

By: David M. Stevens

In the opening days of the 2018 legislative session, Maryland's General Assembly overrode Governor Larry Hogan's veto of the paid sick leave bill passed in 2017.  Use of the veto override procedure meant that the law would take effect only 30 days after it was enacted, meaning that the law will become effective on February 11, 2018.  During the final days before the law's effective date, the General Assembly considered a bill to delay its effective date to July 1st, but the legislation appears unlikely to pass in the House of Delegates.  As a result, mandatory sick leave will shortly become a reality in Maryland.    
The core provision of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act requires all Maryland employers to provide their employees with leave time that can be used by an employee for illness or for other personal obligations specified in the Act.  Employers with 15 or more employees must provide paid leave, while employers with 14 or fewer employees may provide the leave on an unpaid basis.  The leave time must accrue at a rate of at least one hour for every thirty hours worked by the employee, up to a maximum of forty hours of leave time in a single year.  The Act provides employers with the option to award the required leave in a lump sum once per year or to grant it as it accrues based upon an employee's hours of work.  Depending upon which method an employer uses, employees may accrue up to a maximum of sixty-four hours of leave time, and may use up to sixty-four hours in a single year.  
The leave mandated by the Act may be used by an employee for a variety of personal reasons, including the employee's own illness, to obtain medical care for a family member, to care for an ill family member, for maternity or paternity leave, or to obtain services in connection an incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  
The Act's requirements as to the rate at which leave is accrued and the reasons for which leave may be used will be of particular note to employers who already offer paid leave to their employees.  Although the Act provides that it may not be construed to require an employer to modify an existing paid leave policy, such pre-existing policies will only be given deference if they permit employees to accrue and use leave on terms that are at least equivalent to those set forth in the Act.  
The above description provides a summary of the Act's main provisions.  In taking steps to comply with the Act, employers are wise to consult with their legal counsel, as the Act contains a host of provisions that modify or eliminate the Act's general requirements with respect to certain industries and certain groups of employees.  The Act also imposes an obligation on employers to provide notice to their employees regarding the terms of the Act, along with recordkeeping requirements relating to the accrual and use of leave.  A model notice form is due to be issued by Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation.  
The enactment of the Healthy Working Families Act makes Maryland one of fewer than ten states to have enacted mandatory paid leave on a statewide basis.  The Act does contain a provision prohibiting local jurisdictions from enacting their own paid leave ordinances.  The Act, however, provides that Montgomery County's paid leave ordinance shall not be affected by the passage of the new legislation.