And a big round of applause for Maryland!

Maryland was certainly not the state falling behind with legislative changes regarding leave allowances for their employees, but with the exception of Maryland Pregnancy Disability, these were arguably anti-discrimination laws versus an affirmative right for leave like Maryland Adoption or Ancillary leaves. It appears Maryland employees will now benefit from a most appropriate and well-deserved parental leave benefit.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has approved legislation (SB 737 and House counterpart HB 1026) that provides up to six weeks of unpaid parental leave in a twelve month period to employees  for the birth or adoption of a child. Employers with 15-49 employees are required to offer “Maryland PLA”. Of course, once that employer has reached the 50th employee mark, all employees are entitled to Federal FMLA coverage for birth and adoption.

Maryland Parental Leave Act
To be eligible for unpaid parental leave, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year and for 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. The law does not apply to: (1) independent contractors; or (2) individuals employed at work sites where the employer employs fewer than 15 employees, or if the total number of employees employed by that employer within a 75-mile radius of the work site is also fewer than 15.

Employers, however, may deny the leave if it is “necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer”, and the employer gives notice of the denial to the employee prior to the commencement of the leave. This is an unfortunate stipulation, although it makes sense. These smaller employers cannot always provide an employee with 6 weeks off from work due to birth or adoption. Ultimately, the burden of proof is on the employer to show “substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer.”

If paid leave is available, the employers may require, or employees may elect, to substitute paid leave for all or part of the parental leave. Employers are barred from terminating employees during the leave period except for cause. The new law also requires employers to pay any commissions resulting from work performed prior to the leave that become due during the leave period.

Employers, who are already required to maintain health insurance coverage during the leave period, but may recover the cost of the premiums from employees who do not return from leave except in circumstances beyond their control, may now recover the premiums by deducting them from employees’ wages upon termination.

Overall, this is a great win for Maryland’s smaller employers…perhaps a bigger win for the employees. I’m sure that these smaller employer groups are feeling the anticipation of potential grievances of what is to come. If words of support could be offered, remember that you too have rights. Request provider’s certifications, request the 30 days notice if the leave is foreseeable and keep diligent records. If you do so, you’ll find this impact to your company will be much softer than anticipated and your employees will be happier and more loyal for it.

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