Chapter 644, the Maryland Flexible Leave Act, signed May 22
and effective October 1, 2008, makes some dramatic changes to the rules
governing employees' use of paid leave. The new law affects all private
Maryland employers that employ 15 or more employees, engage in a business or
profession in Maryland, and provide leave with pay under the terms of a union
contract or an employment policy. Public employers are not affected. The term
"leave with pay" encompasses sick leave, vacation time, and compensatory time.
The new law requires employers to allow employees to use earned paid leave to take care of an illness in the
employee's immediate family (defined as children, spouse, or parents). Those
who earn more than one type of leave with pay may elect which type to use.
Employers may not discharge, demote, suspend, discipline, or otherwise take
action against an employee because the employee has exercised this right, filed
a complaint, or testified or assisted in an action brought against the employer
under this new requirement. The new law does not require employers to offer
paid leave if they do not already do so.
According to a recent opinion letter from Assistant Attorney
General Katherine Rowe, who works in the office of Maryland Attorney General
Douglas Gansler, the new law applies to any leave taken after October 1, 2008,
regardless of when the leave was earned and accrued.
Maryland Chamber of Commerce, a significant voice for employers, urged Governor
Martin O'Malley to veto the bill, calling it "an unnecessary government
intrusion into the employer-employee relationship that undermines employment
The chamber also cited a few other problems with the bill,
including the lack of definition of the term "illness," the lack of a provision
requiring employees to verify the need for the leave, and the conflict with the
federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which covers employers of 50 or more (as
opposed to 15 or more, as covered by the new Maryland law).
The Maryland affiliate of the National Federation of
Independent Business, a small employer group, also opposed the bill, stating
that although many small businesses make every effort to accommodate valuable
employees during times of need or crisis, this legislation is an attempt by
state government to micromanage employers' businesses and the relationship they
build with their employees.
What to do. Maryland
employers of 15 or more should revisit their paid leave policies and revise
them to state that accrued leave with pay may now be used for caring for family