On October 6, 2020, the County Council for Montgomery County, Maryland enacted Bill 14-20, which effectively lowers the standard of proof for workplace harassment cases by rejecting the “severe or pervasive” standard applicable to state and federal claims.
The new county legislation defines “harassment” as “verbal, written, or physical conduct, whether or not the conduct would be considered sufficiently severe or pervasive under precedent applied to harassment claims” provided that: a) conduct is based on protected status; b) “a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider the conduct to be more than a petty slight, trivial inconvenience, or minor annoyance;” and c) at least one of the following applies:
- Submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment;
- Submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual;
- Conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating a working environment that is perceived by the victim to be abusive and hostile.
The Bill goes into effect January 15, 2021. Employers in Montgomery County should review handbooks and training to ensure compliance for the new year.