Maryland General Assembly Passes Several New Workplace Bills

Bernadette Hunton
Bernadette Hunton

I recently wrote about Organ Donation Leave (HB1284/SB705), a bill likely to make job-protected organ donation leave a benefit to which Maryland employees are entitled.  Other bills that expand protections for employees were approved during the 2019 General Assembly session, and if they become law as anticipated, will have a significant impact on businesses.  Here’s a look at the highlights:

Workplace Harassment (HB679/SB782). The legislation expands protections for workers under Maryland’s anti-discrimination law.  Under the bill:

  • Independent contractors are considered employees for purposes of State anti-discrimination law.
  • Employers with 1 or more employees may be subject to liability for complaints of harassment. (Current law has a 15 employee threshold.)
  • The definition of “harassment” includes harassment based on race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
  • Employers are expressly prohibited from engaging in harassment of an employee.
  • Employers are liable for harassment if an employer’s negligence leads to harassment or continuation of harassment. An employer is also liable for conduct of an individual who undertakes or recommends tangible employment actions, or directs, supervises or evaluates an employee’s work.
  • The time period for filing a complaint of harassment with a local human relations commission is extended from 6 months to 2 years.
  • The time period for filing a lawsuit alleging harassment in violation of Maryland’s anti-discrimination law is extended from 2 years to 3 years.

Criminal Record Screening Process (HB994/SB839)In recent years, several local jurisdictions have passed “ban the box” laws aimed at increasing chances of employment for applicants with a criminal history.  Recent legislation could now make the protections available state-wide to employees who work for employers with 15 or more full-time employees.  The bill prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record, or accusations brought against the applicant, at any time prior to the first in-person interview.  “Criminal record” includes an arrest; a plea or verdict of guilty; a plea of nolo contendere; the marking of a charge “STET” on the docket; disposition of a probation before judgement; and disposition of not criminally responsible. The new law would not preempt local laws that offer greater protections to employees.

Non-compete and Conflict of Interest Clauses (HB38/SB328). The bill provides that non-compete and conflict of interest provisions in an employment agreement with an employee who earns $15 or less an hour or $31,200 or less annually are void as against public policy. Employers will still be allowed, however, to prohibit such employees from taking client lists or other proprietary client-related information.

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