On June 23, 2015, the Montgomery County, Maryland Council passed the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act requiring all private employers, including both taxable and tax-exempt entities, in the County to provide employees with sick leave and time off. After debating a variety of proposed amendments, from exemptions for small businesses to the obligation to carry over unused leave, to how the law will affect seasonal workers, the Council passed one of the strictest paid leave laws in any jurisdiction in the United States to date. The stated goal of the Council was to reduce the number of employees who are forced to come to work when ill or to send sick children to school or daycare because the employees have no paid leave. If you are a Montgomery County employer, there are several important facts that you should know.
The new law applies to all employees, regardless of the size of the employer. Earned sick and safe leave is paid leave (unlike FMLA leave) away from work that can be used for injury or illness of the employee or the employee's immediate family member (including a grandparent and spouse of a grandparent). Covered employers must provide earned sick and safe leave at a rate of at least one hour for every 30 hours that an employee works in Montgomery County — up to 56 hours in a calendar year. Employers with fewer than five employees, which is determined by the highest total number of employees employed at any time during the course of a calendar year, do get some preferential treatment. These small employers are required to provide up to seven days of leave, but only four of those days must be paid. Also, tipped employees will have to be paid at least the County minimum wage for each hour the employee uses earned sick and safe leave.
Notably, the law does not go into effect until October 1, 2016. Generally, employment laws enacted during the course of the year go into effect on October 1 of that year. The Council, however, decided to delay implementation to give business owners ample time to prepare and come into compliance with the law.
Also important is the fact that the law does not provide any additional benefits for full-time employees who already receive at least 56 hours of paid leave of any kind. The Council specifically mentioned throughout the debate that many Montgomery County employers already provide significant paid leave, more than what the new law requires, and that those employers should not be required to do even more.
The Maryland Legislature is currently considering a bill that would impose similar sick and safe leave requirements on employers throughout the entire state. That legislation will likely be up for a vote at the beginning of 2016.