Understanding the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act Provides Benefits When You or Family Members Get Sick

On Jan. 12, 2018, Maryland became the ninth state to adopt a mandatory sick leave statute, when the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation requiring Maryland employers to provide sick and safe leave to their employees. Known as the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, this law provides employees with up to 40 hours of sick and safe leave each year and went into effect on Feb. 11, 2018.

Who is Affected?

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act applies to all employers, including state and local governments, in the state of Maryland. However, the law distinguishes between large and small employers. For employers with 14 or fewer employees, leave may be provided on an unpaid basis. For employers with 15 or more employees, sick and safe leave is paid at the employee’s normal pay wage rate, unless the employee is a tipped employee, in which case the leave may be paid at minimum wage. Note that full-time, part-time, and temporary employees are counted when determining the number of employees.

There are certain exceptions to the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, including workers who:
  • Are 17 years old or younger
  • Work fewer than 12 hours per week
  • Are independent contractors
  • Are real estate agents or real estate brokers
  • Work in the construction industry and are party to collective bargaining agreements in which both the employer and union agree to waive the Act’s requirements
  • Work in the agricultural sector on an agricultural operation
  • Work on an as-needed basis in the health or human services industry.
Also exempt are employers with existing collective bargaining agreements entered into before June 1, 2017, for the duration of the contract term.

How Does the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act Apply to COVID?

The COVID epidemic has created major issues for employees, who may be getting sick themselves, who may have to take time off to care for children or other family members who get sick, or who may not be able to come to work because they have to take care of children due to school closings and remote learning situations.

These and other COVID-related situations may all be considered valid reasons for taking leave under the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act. Employees may be able to utilize leave under MHWFA for reasons related to COVID-19. The Act specifically allows employees to use their accrued leave for reasons such as:

  • The care or treatment of their own illnesses or conditions
  • Their family member’s mental or physical illness, injury, or conditions
  • Preventive medical care for self or family members.

Family members who are covered under the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act include children, grandchildren, grandparents, parents and in-laws, siblings, and spouses. Note that while the Act covers leave for medical illnesses, injuries, or conditions, it does not cover non-medical related conditions, so it is unlikely to provide leave due to having to care for healthy children during school closings.

COVID-Related Benefits in Addition to the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act

In addition to the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, employees who need to take off work due to COVID-related reasons, may have other benefits available. These may include:

  1. The Maryland Flexible Leave Act. This act allows employees to use paid leave which they have accrued to care for an immediate family member with an illness such as COVID. Employees are covered under the same conditions and rules that would apply if they took leave for their own illness.
  2. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). This act went into effect on April 2, 2020, and is effective through December 31, 2020. The purpose is to provide many employees with paid time off due to COVID-19-related quarantine, and it provides benefits for caring for a child under age 18 if the child’s school has closed or the child’s caretaker is unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This act expanded the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to provide up to 12 weeks of leave to certain employees of employers with under 500 employees. It generally provides:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay if unable to work due to COVID quarantine or symptoms.
  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay if unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine or COVID-related school closings or childcare provider unavailability.
  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to the above COVID-related reasons.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption for providing leave, if doing so would jeopardize the viability of the business.

Further guidance can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s site regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

  1. On March 19, 2020, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan passed the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020. This act expands unemployment insurance benefits and the options for employees upon termination and is effective through April 30, 2021.

How the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act Works

Employees covered by the law must be permitted to earn at least 40 hours of leave per year (paid or unpaid, depending on whether the employer is categorized as a large or a small employer). The employee can earn leave in one of two ways:

  1. Leave can be earned on an accrual basis per the number of hours worked, or
  2. Leave can be awarded in a lump sum at the beginning of each year.

Another important part of the employer’s obligations under the law is giving notice to employees of their entitlement to leave, the provisions of the law (including its provisions that protect employees from retaliation for using their leave), and the ways in which an employee may make a complaint against an employer. The Commissioner of the Division of Labor and Industry has developed a poster for employees and model provisions for employee handbooks.

If you are a Maryland employer, you should review your current leave policies to see if any changes are needed to comply with the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act. If your leave policy is equivalent to or more generous than that which is required by the law, you will not need to make any changes. But if you do need to modify your policies, your compliance will depend on a variety of factors specific to your business.

For further information about the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act and how it might apply to your business, please contact a Maryland business attorney at Lusk Law, LLC. Call us today at (443) 535-9715.