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On October 1, 2014, a new Maryland law expanding rights of employee leave took effect. Codified as Maryland Labor and Employment Article sections 3-1201 through 3-1211, the Maryland Parental Leave Act (MPLA) requires certain employers to allow eligible employees to take unpaid leave for very narrow and specific reasons.

Who is Affected?

The MPLA affects Maryland employers with at least fifteen but not more than forty-nine employees. For purposes of counting, employees are those persons who have worked each working day during a period of twenty calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

A person is eligible for leave under the MPLA if that person has been employed by the employer for a twelve month period and has worked at least 1,250 hours in the twelve months preceding the request for leave. An employee is not eligible if an employee’s worksite has fewer than fifteen employees and the employer has fewer than fifteen employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

What Constitutes Parental Leave?

During any twelve month period, each eligible employee is entitled to a total of six work weeks of unpaid parental leave for either the birth of the employee’s child or the placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.

The employer may require an eligible employee to provide written notice of the intention to take parental leave at least thirty days before the employee begins leave.  An eligible employee may, however, take parental leave without prior notice following a premature birth, unexpected adoption, or unexpected foster placement.

Employees can choose to or can be required to substitute their paid leave for a portion or all of their parental leave. During any period of parental leave, commission employees shall be paid for all commissions earned but not paid before the employee took parental leave.

When an employee returns from parental leave, he/she is entitled to be restored to either the position they had when they began parental leave, or an equivalent position.

No Guarantees.

The legislature made it very clear that parental leave and the protections afforded under MPLA are not absolute.

When two conditions are satisfied an employer may deny an employee’s request for parental leave; and may deny an employee’s return to their prior position.  First the denial must be necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer.  Unfortunately, the legislature did not define “substantial and grievous economic injury.” Therefore, employers should take special consideration when determining what this phrase may require.

Second, an employer must give the employee notice. Notice regarding the denial of a parental leave request must be given before the employee begins parental leave. Notice regarding the denial of restoration to a prior position must be given at the time the employer determines economic injury would occur

Additionally, an employer may terminate an employee who is taking parental leave if the termination is for cause.

Health Insurance.

During an employee’s parental leave, the employer must maintain coverage of a group health plan in the same manner as it would if the employee had not taken parental leave. The premium may be recovered if the employee does not return to work after the parental leave has expired, but not if the employee does not return to work because of circumstances beyond the employee’s control.

Who Enforces?

Under §§ 3-1207 and 3-1208 the MPLA may be enforced either through the Commissioner of Labor or a private law suit.  If the Commissioner of Labor thinks that the MPLA has been violated, he is charged with resolving violations either through mediation or by asking the Attorney General to bring an action in the county where the violation allegedly occurred. In addition, an employee may bring an action to recover damages. It is important to note that a supervisory employee may not be personally liable for any MPLA violations.

Additional Considerations.

The MPLA also addresses in detail parental leave discrimination, the remedies, and the effect this law has on collective bargaining agreements. This post highlights only part of the important portions of the law and is not intended to be legal advice nor a comprehensive guide. As always, any employer or party seeking assistance in complying with this law is invited to contact Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew, P.A. at 410-837-2200.

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