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Employment Law Update-Maryland Legislative Session

Maryland’s 2013 legislative session ended on April 8, 2013.  Several pieces of employment related legislation were passed by the House and the Senate and are now awaiting the Governor’s signature to be signed into law.

The Pregnancy Worker Fairness Act (HB804/SB784) will require employers with more than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations to workers experiencing a disability caused or contributed to by pregnancy.  Under the Americans with Disability Act, pregnancy is not considered a disability; therefore, employers currently are not required by law to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, even though they may do so for other classes of workers. The Act prohibits an employer from refusing to make a reasonable accommodation for the known disability of a worker that is caused by pregnancy, so long as the reasonable accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. Specifically, if an employee requests an accommodation under this Act, the employer will be required to explore all possible means of providing an accommodation.  This includes considering a change to the employee’s job duties, hours, work area, providing mechanical or electrical aids, providing a transfer to less strenuous or hazardous position, or providing leave.  An employer will also be required to approve the employee’s transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position during the duration of the pregnancy if the employer has a policy, practice or collective bargaining agreement which authorizes the transfer of any temporarily disabled employee.  The employer will also be required to transfer the employee if the employee’s health care provider advises the transfer and the transfer would not otherwise require the employer to create additional employment, discharge another employee, displace a more senior employee, or promote an employee who doesn’t meet the job qualifications. Under the Act, pregnant workers will be required to provide certification from their health care provider concerning the advisability of a reasonable accommodation upon the employer’s request. Employers subject to this Act will be required to conspicuously post, and place a notice in their Employment Handbook, information regarding employee’s rights under this Act.

Lien for Unpaid Wages (HB1130/SB758) is a law that will allow employees to place a lien upon their employer’s property to recover unpaid wages. This Act is intended to help low-wage workers in particular as many times the filing fees and legal expenses often keep lower wage workers with small claims from filing lawsuits for unpaid wages.  This Act will allow employees an opportunity to recoup their unpaid wages though a less costly process and keep litigation as a last resort.  In order to establish a lien under the Act, the employee must provide written notice to the employer containing information on the wages claimed and the property that the employee is seeking to lien.  The notice must comply with applicable statute of limitation and service of process rules.  After notice is received by the employer, the employer may dispute the lien by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of the county where the property is located. This complaint must be filed within 30 days after notice was served and it must list all defenses and be supported by the employer’s affidavit.  The employer or the employee may request an evidentiary hearing and the burden is on the employee to prove the wages were not paid.  Within 45 days after the complaint is filed, the Court will decide whether or not to issue an order for lien.  The Act awards costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to the employee if the Court orders establishment of the lien. If however the Court determines the employee’s efforts to establish the lien were frivolous or made in bad faith, the Court may award costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to the employer.  The lien for unpaid wages will also be established if an employer is served with notice and chooses not to dispute the claim within 30 days of service.  Once the lien is established, the employee must record the lien by filing it in the land records or in personal property within 180 days of lien establishment, or the lien will be extinguished.  An order for lien of unpaid wages will be treated like a judgment and therefore can be enforced like any other judgment under Maryland law.  

Both Acts have an effective date of October 1, 2013, once signed into law by the Governor.  

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