Maryland business owners began to offer paid sick leave to employees this week — a benefit that advocates say was long overdue for 700,000 workers in the state.
The law, which went in effect Sunday, requires employers with 15 or more workers to offer up to five days of paid leave for an illness or to deal with situations of domestic violence, assault or stalking. It also allows an employee to use leave to aid a spouse, parent, child or sibling. Employees in a smaller environment with 14 or fewer co-workers can accrue unpaid leave.
“This is a huge victory for more than 700,000 workers across Maryland who have waited long enough for paid sick leave,” Charly Carter, executive director of Maryland Working Families, said in a statement Friday. “We are declaring this the year of working women in Maryland and preserving paid sick leave is the first step to making that a reality.”
The General Assembly approved legislation last year that would have ensured the sick-leave law went into effect Jan. 1, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the measure because he said it would hurt small businesses.
Lawmakers voted last month to override Hogan’s veto.
But the Senate approved an emergency bill Thursday, Feb. 8 to delay implementation until July 1 as a way to give employers more time to prepare for the regulations.
Delegate Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville, who chairs the committee, said the legislation has been discussed for six years and it’s now time to “continue with the state’s other business.”
“We cannot continue to force hardworking Marylanders to choose between staying at home [to] take care of themselves or a loved one [and receiving] a paycheck,” he said. “This has been thoroughly debated from all sides. There comes a time when it is at the end of a process.”
The committee held a hearing Tuesday, Feb. 13 and discussed the Senate bill for about two hours before voting against it the next day.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, a Republican who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties, said businesses still deserve more time to plan for a law that only recently went into effect.
“It’s just good lawmaking when you allow the people you’re impacting time to obey the law you passed,” she said.
The state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation posted information on its website to inform the business community about the law.
Last month, Hogan created the Office of Small Business Regulatory Assistance, which, among other duties, will be responsible for assisting businesses with implementation of the law, resolving programs with state agencies, monitoring the progress of the office and collecting and reporting any data to the governor.
Merchants must also research how sick-leave legislation approved by county and municipal officials would affect them.
Montgomery County’s measure became law in October 2016. For small-business owners with fewer than five employees, a worker can receive up to 32 hours of paid sick and safe leave annually with 24 additional hours of unpaid leave.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management based in Alexandria, Virginia, employers in Montgomery County must adhere to both the county and state law.
Prince George’s County approved sick and safe leave legislation last year for workers involved in domestic violence situations. Because it was approved after Jan. 1, 2017, and wouldn’t go into effect until 45 days after the General Assembly adjourned for 2018 session, employers there will follow the state law.
David Harrington, president of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce, said the nonprofit organization that advocates for at least 500 businesses supports sick leave that offers “some business-friendly amendments.”
For instance, the law lists workers not included to receive sick leave include those who work less than 12 hours per week, construction workers under a union contract and anyone younger than 18 years of age.
In addition, seasonal employees wouldn’t be permitted to accrue sick leave.
Harrington said the chamber will also provide information and any assistance to members on the law.
“We recognize that some people may need some leave,” he said. “We want to work with staff. We also see that having strong employees is essential for having a great business.”