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Columbia, MD 21046

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Baltimore, MD 21202

P. 410-962-1199

Workplace Harassment - Prohibitions, Liability, Enforcement, and Prevention Training

Effective October 1, 2019, significant changes to Maryland’s anti-discrimination laws, focused on harassment, take effect.  House Bill 679, Workplace Harassment - Prohibitions, Liability, Enforcement, and Prevention Training, significantly changes the employment liability landscape for small employers in Maryland. 

While several amendments to Maryland law result, as it relates to private businesses, the Maryland legislature has modified the definition of “employee” to include a company’s independent contractors, without qualification.  This definition applies to the full scope of the statute, including claims of both overt discrimination and the newly stated forms of harassment.

The scope of the statute has been expanded, regarding harassment claims only, by expansion of the definition of an employer to mean any enterprise with one or more “employees”. The law previously applied only to employers of fifteen (15) or more employees.  Practically, it remains to be seen how much distinction will be made in future litigation between claims for harassment and discrimination under this statute, as written.

While previously implied, the statute now expressly prohibits harassment.  The revised definition of “harassment”:

INCLUDES HARASSMENT BASED ON RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, ANCESTRY OR NATIONAL ORIGIN, SEX, AGE, MARITAL STATUS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, OR DISABILITY, AND RETAINS ITS JUDICIALLY DETERMINED MEANING, EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT IT IS EXPRESSLY OR IMPLIEDLY CHANGED IN THIS SUBTITLE

Additional changes allow administrative harassment claims to be filed up to two (2) years after the offending conduct, as a predicate to legal action. Further, suit for harassment may be filed up to three (3) years after the conduct.

The new legislation is prospective (covers future claims) and preempts (overrules) any county statute that requires more than one (1) employee for the invocation of legal rights related to sexual harassment.

Given past history, and trends around the country, employers should expect the law to be expanded in the near future to prohibit discrimination at one employee, and require mandatory training, as recently required in New York.

Considering the expanded scope of the law, BTLG recommends that all Maryland employers have their employee handbook revised, and that those without one, implement one before October 1, 2019.  Maryland employers should consider obtaining employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) to cover potential litigation or liability, not otherwise covered by general business policies of insurance.

 

 

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