New Law Gives Maryland Employees Right to Use Paid Leave to Care for Family Members

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On May 22, 2008, Governor Martin O'Malley signed the Flexible Leave Act into law, requiring Maryland employers to allow their employees to use earned leave to care for immediate family members. The Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It allows such employees to use not only sick leave but also earned vacation time and compensatory time to care for sick family members. Where an employee does so, the Act prohibits employers from discharging, demoting, disciplining or otherwise taking adverse action against the employee. The Act also protects from such sanction employees who file a complaint, testify, or otherwise assist in an investigation against an employer that violates its provisions.

The Act, which takes effect October 1, 2008, has faced a storm of criticism. Indeed, several members of the business community had asked the governor to veto the legislation, but to no avail. Some opponents of the bill complain that the minimum size of the affected businesses (15) is too low and thus will unduly burden small and mid-size employers. Others charge that the Act can be easily abused because its provisions are vague. For instance, the law neither defines the term "illness" nor establishes the age of children it seeks to cover. Accordingly, critics charge that an employee could take off work when an adult "child" has a cold.

Despite the shortcomings, proponents argue that the Act is not as far-reaching as critics contend. Proponents point out that the bill does not require employers to grant new paid leave to employees. Further, the Act applies only to employers that provide paid leave under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or an employment policy. An employee also must use leave in compliance with the CBA or employment policy.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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