New Maryland Procedures for Employees Seeking Unpaid Wages

Effective October 1, under new procedures not yet finalized by the Maryland Department of Licensing and Labor Relations (DLLR), employees wishing to pursue alleged unpaid wage claims can obtain a lien against their employers' real and/or personal property for the amount of unpaid wages prior to commencing any action or claim. This is a departure from past policy, which required employees to first file suit under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law or the Maryland Wage-Hour Law. This new law puts the burden on the employer to initiate a suit in Circuit Court within 30 days of receiving notice of the employee's claim.

We are still awaiting DLLR's release of the final regulations, forms and procedures, but as outlined in the legislation, the process for wage claims made after October 1, 2013, is as follows:

  1. Employee provides written notice to employer of the wages claimed and the property against which the lien is sought.
  2. In order to dispute the claim, within 30 days employer must file a complaint in the Circuit Court in the county where the employer's property is located.
  3. An evidentiary hearing, while presumed not necessary in order for the Court to render a decision, is held upon request of either the employer or employee. The employee has the burden of proving that wages have not been paid. The Court must issue an order either establishing or denying the lien within 45 days of the filing of the complaint by the employer. If an order is issued approving the lien, the employee is entitled to court costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. If the Court determines the employee's claim to be frivolous or made in bad faith, the Court may award court costs and attorneys' fees in favor of the employer.
  4. If an employer fails to file a complaint within 30 days after notice is served on employer, the lien is established.

Unfortunately, the new law does not state whether any type of discovery will be permitted during the hearing process or what type of information needs to be contained within the notice or the complaint. In addition, notwithstanding that the DLLR's regulations have not been made available as of the date of this alert, it is vital that Maryland business owners understand this new law, as it imposes very short time limits within which employers must act and it shifts to the employer the burden of filing a law suit and pursuing action to affirmatively contest an employee's wage claim.

Suggested Action Items for Employers: Communicate to your workforce who in the company is authorized to receive notices from employees; and ensure that individuals who accept notices on behalf of your company understand the new law and are prepared to respond swiftly in the event they receive notice.

Pregnancy Fairness Act

As of October 1, any company with more than 15 employees is required to make reasonable accommodations, upon request, for an employee's temporary disability caused by pregnancy or childbirth, as long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. "Reasonable accommodations" may include changing the employee's duties, hours or work area, providing mechanical or electrical aids, transferring the employee to a less strenuous position or providing leave. Further, if an employee requests a transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous job during the pregnancy, the employer must grant the request if: it would do so for any other temporarily disabled employee; or the employee's health care provider so advises and the employer is able to do so without displacing employees or creating a new job. Pregnant employees are required to support their requests with medical certifications.

Required Action Item for Employers: Post in a conspicuous location, and include in any employee handbook, an employee's right to reasonable accommodations and leave for disability caused or contributed to by a pregnancy.

Deployment of Family Members in the Armed Forces

Effective October 1, an employee who has worked for an employer at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the last 12 months, and works for a company with 50 or more employees, may take leave from work on the day that an immediate family member serving in the U.S. Armed Forces is leaving for, or returning from, active duty outside the U.S. An immediate family member is defined as a spouse, parent, stepparent, child, stepchild or sibling. An employer may not require the employee to use compensatory, sick or vacation leave. Proof verifying that leave is taken under this law may be required.

Suggested Action Item for Employers: Update handbooks and leave policy statements.

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