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Maryland’s new employee harassment law (HB 679) is set to become effective October 1, 2019.  The law dramatically expands the scope of actions that can be brought against employers, and (perhaps most importantly) is much broader than protections now available under Federal law.

The new Maryland law covers harassment against workers based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  It does not have a specific definition of “harassment,” but rather maintains the “judicially determined meaning” – which involves unwelcome behavior, comments, or actions that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that the employee is subjected to as a condition of employment.

The new law expands Maryland’s discrimination laws. Here are the top three changes:

  1. The new law expands the definition of an “employer.” For harassment claims, an employer will now include any business with at least one employee who has worked for 20 or more calendar weeks during the current or preceding year.  Previously, Maryland law covered only employers with 15 or more employees.  This expanded definition applies only to harassment claims, and the existing threshold of 15 or more employees remains for discrimination claims that do not involve harassment.
  2. The new law expands the definition of an “employee.” Going forward, the term “employee” will include “an individual working as an independent contractor for an employer.”  Thus, independent contractors will be able to sue Maryland employers and bring harassment and discrimination claims. The federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USC § 2000e(f)), does not cover independent contractors.
  3. The new Maryland law also expands the time period to file a harassment claim. Under State law, employees must file an administrative complaint. Such complaints can be filed with the federal EEOC or with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”). After October 1, 2019 employees will be permitted to file a harassment charge up to two years after the date the harassment occurred.  This expanded filing period applies only to harassment claims.  Other discrimination claims must be filed within three hundred days after the date the harassment occurred.  Also, civil actions under the Maryland law can be filed up to three years after the alleged harassment occurred. Other discrimination suits must be filed within two years of the alleged discrimination.

These changes in Maryland’s discrimination laws will expand the risk of employer liability in Maryland. They will also make Maryland courts a more attractive forum for pursuing such claims, even more so than under the Federal Title VII.

The labor and employment group at Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew provides comprehensive representation to employers and management, including the types of claims described in this article.

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