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Md. lawmakers’ paid leave proposals well-intentioned but misguided

robinson-aliya-col-sigNo solution should ever add to the problem it’s meant to address, but Maryland lawmakers are about to do just that.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering two paid leave proposals, HB581/SB486 and HB375/SB211, that will create major compliance challenges for employers. The bills will add to the complex patchwork of state and local paid leave laws and ultimately detract from the generous paid leave benefits already enjoyed by thousands of Maryland workers and their families.

These bills must be opposed in their current form or substantially amended to protect local businesses during hard times and Marylanders who already receive valuable, employer-provided paid leave benefits.

Maryland has a history of weighing private employers’ successes with employees’ emerging needs to enact equitable and efficient policies. An example of this balance is the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which provides employees with accrued paid sick leave benefits to tend to a personal illness, receive preventative care, care for a family member or new child, and address a safety concern involving the employee.

Large, multistate employers provided these valuable benefits to thousands of Marylanders long before state law required. Employers worked with lawmakers to identify private-sector best practices and design a workable statewide paid sick leave policy benefiting both employers and employees sustainably and at scale.

Maryland can once again lead by example by shaping policies that increase access to valuable benefits for employees without creating counterproductive, unnecessary challenges for employers that already go above and beyond. State lawmakers must recognize employers’ successes and not ignore the negative impact that unrefined policies would have on existing paid leave benefits.

Burdensome plans

The first of these current proposals, HB 581 and SB 486, would require Maryland employers to provide essential employees with 14 days of emergency paid health leave to address a personal illness or medical need.

Unlike similar supplemental paid leave policies, such as the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and recent state supplemental paid leave laws, HB 581 and SB 486 do not provide equivalent tax credits or financial assistance for businesses forced to comply with these additional paid leave requirements, instead saddling vulnerable employers with unfunded mandates during future emergencies.

While the FFCRA and other state policies recognized the critical paid leave role large employers play during public emergencies, like COVID-19, and exempted employers with 500 or more employees, HB 581 and SB 486 do not. Instead, they place these requirements on all employers regardless of size, circumstance, or benefits offered.

The second of these efforts, HB 375 and SB 211, proposes creating a paid family and medical leave insurance program within Maryland, ignoring the economic realities faced by employers and employees. HB 375 and SB 211 would alter several standards first established by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and generally followed by state insurance programs and employer-provided plans, such as doubling available leave from 12 weeks to 24 weeks per year or expanding the definition of a family member.

The bills also fail to consider the interaction between the proposed state insurance program and existing paid leave sources. They lack preemption of conflicting local and municipal paid leave ordinances and clarity about program exemption processes for employers with equivalent paid leave benefit plans.

Unlike past Maryland paid leave successes, HB581/SB486 and HB375/SB211 would place considerable burdens on Maryland employers and do so without considering the domino effect on other critical employee benefits, including many different paid leave sources.

While well-intentioned, these proposals must be amended to better represent the employer community’s insights and maximize the value of available paid leave benefits; otherwise, they must be opposed.

Aliya Robinson is  senior vice president of retirement and compensation policy at The ERISA Industry Committee.