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Bill affecting Md. employer liability in negligent hiring suits to get first hearing

George S. Tolley III, chair of the legislative committee for the Maryland Association for Justice. (File)

George S. Tolley III, chair of the legislative committee for the Maryland Association for Justice. (File)

A bill that would exempt employers in certain industries from liability for negligent hiring or supervision of employees with a probation before judgment or conviction on their records is being monitored by both second-chance advocates and plaintiff’s attorneys ahead of its first hearing in the Maryland General Assembly.

Senate Bill 55, introduced by Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, R-Harford, would prevent employers in certain industries – manufacturing, shipping and receiving, warehousing, construction and demolition –  from being held liable based on evidence of past criminal conduct if the employee has completed probation.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee.

Caryn York, senior policy advocate for the Job Opportunities Task Force, said her organization has long lobbied for this kind of legislation because it removes a barrier that might make employers hesitant to hire otherwise qualified applicants. JOTF will support the bill with amendments that expands the types of jobs and employers covered.

“You’ll find that once you bring everyone to the table, employers are willing to hire,” she said. “We’ve been talking about it for years.”

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the bill falls in line with the organization’s goal to make it less burdensome for businesses to hire returning citizens.

When employers were interviewed about their feelings on hiring people with criminal records, liability was a common question, according to Fry.

“It’s a bill we think highlights an issue that the business community has,” he said.

The GBC supports the bill as-is but also would like to see the types of employers expanded, added Fry, who called the legislation “a great first step.”

But trial lawyers are expressing concern that the bill impacts public safety and consumers.

“I think the intent of the bill explicitly is to make it harder for a victim to prove a case of negligent hiring or negligent supervision by changing the legal duty that the law imposes on employers to ascertain the fitness of a prospective employee for a particular job,” said George S. Tolley III, chair of the legislative committee for the Maryland Association for Justice.

The association expects to object to the bill as written at Tuesday’s hearing, said Tolley, of Dugan, Babij & Tolley LLC in Timonium.

“I only know what the bill says on its face and on its face it’s objectionable,” he said.

York said the pushback was expected but she believes the bill is a win-win for employers and job seekers.

“The fault should not fall on the employer because the point is that the employer is hiring someone who’s going to get the job done and if you have an individual that had an issue in the past, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a likelihood that they are going to re-offend,” she said. “To assume that if they do re-offend that it’s the fault of the employer, that the employer should have to pony up some kind of monetary retribution, is totally counterproductive.”

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