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Employment attorneys prepare clients for paid sick leave law

Sarah M. Sawyer and Russell B. Berger, Attorneys at Offit Kurman. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Sarah M. Sawyer and Russell B. Berger, Attorneys at Offit Kurman. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Mandatory paid sick leave is now law in Maryland after years of debate, and employment attorneys are making sure both employers and employees are prepared for changes that will impact 700,000 workers in the state.

“Most employers that we work with offer some type of paid leave policy,” said Sarah Sawyer of Offit Kurman in Baltimore. “The conversation is to then look at what their policies are, what they offer and see if they’re compliant.”

But even employers with paid sick leave policies will probably need to make some changes thanks to the Healthy Working Families Act, Sawyer said. Those modifications include examining the accrual method for leave (one hour for every 30 hours worked under the new law), carryover leave policies, how sick leave can be used and employee notice requirements.

The new law requires business with 15 or more employees provide at least five days of paid sick leave. The law also applies to employees working part-time for 12 hours a week. Businesses with 14 or fewer employees have to offer some form of unpaid leave for the same number of days.

“There is going to be more work in the details of leave policies than in the broad strokes, and it’s important that employers understand what’s going to affect them,” said Russell Berger, Sawyer’s colleague.

The definitions for what can qualify for paid sick leave is also broader under the new law, which now includes preventative care, care for family members, maternity and paternity leave and leave for domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking incidents.

“The law certainly contemplates a more family leave aspect to it,” David A. Burkhouse, a member of Pessin Katz Law P.A. and a part of the Towson firm’s education, labor and employment group.

Effective date?

Complicating matters for businesses is uncertainty about when the new law will take effect.

Last week, both the House of Delegates and Senate voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the paid sick leave law. Under the Maryland Constitution, businesses will be required to start following the law starting Feb. 11, 30 days after the veto override. However, Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and Senate sponsor of the new law, has called for a 90-day delay, saying the 30 days is too short a time for small businesses to be compliant.

“I’m counseling everyone to be ready Feb. 11 because there is a downside risk to not being ready,” Burkhouse said.

He encourages employers to develop a paid sick leave policy if they don’t have one already and to work with payroll providers to ensure there are systems in place to track accrual.

“This is particularly sticky if you consider some employers who have employees on salary they don’t track time for, but to institute paid sick leave, they will have to track that time,” Burkhouse said.

The lack of calls from clients making sure they are compliant with the new law has Burkhouse worried.

“We’re concerned the (Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation) is going to hit the ground running when this thing goes into effect and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of it,” he said. “It’s going to be critical because the plaintiffs’ bar is going to be interested in enforcing this law.”

Broad outreach

Kathleen Cahill, a Towson-based employment attorney who mostly represents workers, said workers don not call a lawyer they have a problem, so it’s too early to determine the law’s effect on employees.

“Thus far, it’s at the stage for broad outreach to get the word out that there’s a change in the law that can be helpful,” Cahill said.

That outreach is being led by legal service organizations including the Public Justice Center, which has been advocating for the paid sick leave law for six years. The organization’s Workplace Justice Project is creating an informational sheet to address common questions about the new law related to access, how to earn sick leave and the law’s limitations, said Sulma Guzmán, attorney at the Workplace Justice Project. The information will be available in multiple languages in the coming days on the PJC’s website.

The PJC is also one of the founding members of Working Matters, a coalition with nearly 160 members including community organizations and faith-based groups.

“They all have an ear on the ground,” Guzmán said.


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