On May 5, 2014, Governor Martin O'Malley signed the Maryland Parental Leave Act (MPLA) into law, expanding compliance requirements for Maryland small business owners beyond the current requirements of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This new law requires small business owners employing between 15 and 49 employees in the state of Maryland to provide employees six workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth of an employee's child or the placement of a child with an employee for adoption or foster care. The new law exposes small business owners to new burdens and potential litigation as employers and employees adjust to the newly expanded parental leave rights.
Prior to this new law, Maryland small business owners were exempt from similar requirements under the FMLA, which excludes employers with fewer than 50 employees. Although the MPLA is similar to the FMLA in that employees must: (1) have worked for a qualifying employer for a 12-month period; (2) worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the requested leave; and (3) be employed at a work site where at least 15 employees work within a 75-mile radius to be eligible to take leave under this new policy, the MPLA imposes the obligation to provide leave on employers employing less than 50 workers and down to as few as 15 workers. The new law permits employers to require eligible employees to give at least 30 days written notice before commencing leave unless the leave is due to premature birth or unexpected adoption or foster placement. An employer may deny leave to an eligible employee only where denial of leave is necessary to prevent "substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer." In a provision likely to generate disputes and litigation, the MPLA provides that an employer can only terminate an employee who is out on parental leave for cause.
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