2019 Year in Review and 2020 Forecast: Employment Law Updates in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia

Over the past year, there were a number of changes in the employment law landscape throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.  To keep employers apprised of the latest developments in these jurisdictions, below is a recap some of the key laws that took effect or were enacted in 2019 and a forecast of potential changes on the horizon in 2020.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

shutterstock_DCTipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 Not Fully Funded: The D.C. City Council enacted the Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act in October 2018, which had the immediate impact of repealing Ballot Initiative 77 – a voter-approved ballot that eliminated the use of the tip credit in D.C.  Thus, employers with tipped employees are still permitted to take a tip credit toward meeting minimum hourly wage requirements.  But the Act also imposes certain training, reporting, and notice requirements for all employers of tipped employees – many of which have yet to take effect due to the lack of funding.

As explained in our previous blog article, the Act imposes certain training and notice requirements on all employers of tipped employees.  The date on which employers must implement sexual harassment prevention training and provide the requisite notice to tipped employees, however, has not yet been determined, as a majority of the Act’s requirements have not been approved through budget funding.  To date, the only provisions of the Act that are in effect, besides the repeal of Ballot Initiative 77, are related to employee and manager training on D.C.’s Minimum Wage Act Revision Act, certain notices to employees regarding their tips, and third-party payroll and wage reporting requirements (beginning Jan. 1, 2020).  Employers should monitor this law throughout 2020, as it will likely be funded sometime next year.

Employees Can Claim D.C. Paid Leave Act Benefits Beginning July 1, 2020: D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 (“Paid Leave Act”) provides up to eight weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child, six weeks of family leave to care for an ill family member with a serious health condition, and two weeks of medical leave to care for one’s own serious health condition.  D.C. employees who take paid leave will be eligible to receive up to $1,000 per week, depending on their wage level.  The leave program is funded by a quarterly 0.62% payroll tax on businesses that  expected to generate a total of $250 million each year.

July 1, 2019 marked the date on which the District began collecting taxes from employers in preparation to administer paid leave benefits beginning on July 1, 2020.  Employers should ensure that they have the Paid Family Leave Notice posted in their workplace, along with other labor law posters, by February 1, 2020, and ensure that all new employees hired after February 1, 2020 are provided with an electronic or hard copy of the notice.  The proposed benefits regulations that contain instructions on how employees file for benefits are being finalized by the D.C. Department of Employment Services (“DOES”) and are expected to be rolled out in the next few months.  Employers should familiarize themselves with this rule and the anticipated regulations, especially if they have not paid the quarterly taxes that DOES began collecting six months ago.

For further details on the D.C. Paid Leave Act and employer obligations, please check out our prior blog post.

Minimum Wage Increase in 2020: Under D.C.’s Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016, the minimum wage in the District of Columbia increased from $13.25 per hour to $14.00 per hour on July 1, 2019, and the base minimum wage for tipped employees increased from $3.89 per hour to $4.45 per hour.  The law also provides for a progressive increase to $15.00 per hour on July 1, 2020, and a base increase of $5.00 per hour for tipped employees.

Drug Testing/Marijuana Updates Expected in 2020: The D.C. City Council is considering two bills that would eliminate drug testing employees for marijuana.  Possession of marijuana and its recreational use is legal in D.C., and many employees have a valid prescription for medicinal marijuana.  However, under current law, employees can still be disciplined at work if they test positive for marijuana.

The Prohibition of Marijuana Testing Act of 2019 proposes to eliminate marijuana testing as a condition of employment unless required by law.  The second bill, the Medical Marijuana Program Patient Protection Amendment Act of 2019, would prohibit discriminating against D.C. government employees who are enrolled in the medical marijuana program, and would do away with marijuana testing on such employees who have a valid prescription under the program.  This rule was already rolled out as emergency legislation in June 2019 but only went into effect for 90 days.  Although neither of these laws are final, and private sector employers have not been impacted by these proposals yet, it is certainly something to keep a close eye on.  Many states across the country have already, or are beginning to, incorporate employee protections in marijuana legislation, which significantly alters traditional employer policies, procedures, and practices related to drugs and drug testing policies.

MARYLAND

shutterstock_MarylandLaw Regarding Noncompete and Conflict of Interest Clauses Imposed Restrictions on Employment Agreements: A new Maryland law that went into effect on October 1, 2019 prohibits employers from including noncompete or conflict of interest clauses in any employment contract with an employee earning $15 or less per hour or $31,200 or less annually.  Such provisions are considered void as against public policy.  However, the bill specifically provides that employers may still prohibit such employees from taking client lists or other proprietary client-related information.  Employers should carefully review their employment agreements with employees who are considered lower wage earners and revise them, as necessary, to ensure that company interests are protected while still complying with the law.

Workplace Harassment Amendment Expanded Scope of Liability for Employers: On October 1, 2019, under HB 679/SB 872, several changes to Maryland’s anti-discrimination law went into effect, which vastly expanded the scope of liability for employers under State law.  For instance, the definition of “employee” was expanded to include independent contractors; the definition of “employer” was revised to increase the scope of liability for cases of harassment from any employer with 15 or more employee to any employer with a single employee; and a definition of harassment was specifically provided in the statute.  Additionally, the time period for filing a complaint of harassment with the local human rights commission was expanded from six months to two (2) years, and the time period for filing a lawsuit alleging harassment in violation of the state anti-discrimination law was expanded from two (2) years to three (3) years.  Employers should be wary of these changes to Maryland’s discrimination laws, as it certainly expands the risk of employer liability in Maryland and makes Maryland courts a more attractive forum to pursue such claims.

Equal Pay Law Penalties Increased: Penalties for Maryland’s Equal Pay for Equal Work law increased on October 1, 2019.  Employers found to have violated the law two (2) or more than three (3) times within a three-year period may be assessed a penalty equal to 10% of the damages owed by the employers, which are paid into the General Fund of the State of Maryland.

Organ Donation Leave: Under the HB 1284, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2019, employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide eligible employees (employed for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months) up to 60 business days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to serve as an organ donor, and up to 30 business days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to serve as a bone marrow donor.  Employers should consider adding a new provision to their leave policies in their Employee Handbooks and pay particularly close attention to any requests from employees for time off to donate an organ or bone marrow.  Notably, such organ donor leave does not run concurrently with leave taken pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Ban the Box Legislation Vetoed by Governor Hogan: Legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly prohibiting employers with 15 or more employees from asking about an applicant’s criminal record prior to the first in-person interview was vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan in May 2019.  Note, however, that there are several local ban-the-box laws throughout Maryland, including those enacted by Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County – all of which provide greater restrictions on employers than what was proposed under the proposed bill.

Minimum Wage Increase in 2020: Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the minimum wage in Maryland will increase from $10.10 per hour to $11.00 per hour.  Please note, however, that employers in Montgomery County, MD and Prince George’s County, MD are subject to separate, higher minimum wage rates, which may also vary depending on the size of the employer.

Maryland OSHA Still Has Not Adopted the E-Recordkeeping Rule: Maryland OSHA (“MOSH”) is the only state-plan safety and health agency in the country that has not adopted federal OSHA’s e-Recordkeeping Rule, which was promulgated back in May 2016.  Under the revised federal rule issued in January 2019, which MOSH is required to adopt, establishments with 250 or more employees and establishments with 20 or more employees in high hazard industries are required to submit their 300A data by March 2nd of every year through federal OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application.  Covered establishments should closely monitor this rule and be prepared to submit their 300A data, as it is will likely be finalized prior to the upcoming March 2, 2020 data submission deadline.

VIRGINIA

shutterstock_Virginia (1)Repeal of Jim Crow-era Minimum Wage Exemptions: HB 2473 was enacted in March 2019 in an effort to modernize Virginia’s minimum wage law and to repeal certain Jim Crow-era provisions that endorsed wage discrimination against African Americans.  The legislation rescinded exemptions that allowed employers to pay less than the minimum wage to newsboys, shoeshine boys, ushers, doormen, concession stand attendants, cashiers in theaters, and babysitters who work 10 hours or more per week.

Written Wage Statements Now Required in Virginia: Beginning on January 1, 2020, Virginia employers (with the exception of agricultural employers) must provide paystubs to employees on each regularly scheduled payday.  Virginia Code § 40.1-20 was amended in April 2019 to require employers to provide a written statement by pay stub or online, which must include the following:

  1. The name and address of the employer;
  2. The number of hours the employee worked during the pay period;
  3. The employee’s rate of pay;
  4. The gross wages earned by the employee during the pay period; and
  5. The amount and purpose of any deductions.

Given that the current law only requires employers to provide a written statement of employees’ gross wages and any deductions upon request, this may be a significant change for many employers.  It is prudent to take steps to ensure that accurate pay stubs are provided beginning on January 1, 2020.  Employers that already issue pay stubs should review their current payroll systems to verify that all of the code’s requirements, as listed above, are included in employee pay stubs.

Bi-Partisan Bill Limiting Non-Compete Agreements Not Put Up for Vote: A proposed bill that prohibits employers from entering into, enforcing, or threatening to enforce non-compete agreements with low-wage workers passed the Senate and House Commerce and Labor Committee.  But the General Assembly did not put this bill up for a vote in the House during the last legislative session.  Virginia employers should pay close attention to this bill moving forward, as it has bi-partisan support and other states have have continued to enact similar provisions, including Maryland.

Efforts to Increase Minimum Wage Fall Short: At least four bills were introduced in the General Assembly in 2019 to raise Virginia’s minimum wage, which is currently set at the federal floor of $7.25 an hour.  Most of these bills were left in committee.  One bill that did pass the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee would have mandated annual increases to the hourly minimum wage, raising it to $8 this year and reaching a final rate of $11.25 in 2022.  Another bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $10 this year, $13 next year, and $15 by 2021 made it through committee but was then struck down by a Senate vote of 21-19.  While none of these bills managed to increase the state minimum wage, efforts to increase the state minimum wage will certainly be an agenda item during the next legislative session.  Given the narrow split on the issue, it is only a matter of time before Virginia’s minimum wage increases.

Marijuana Legislation at the Forefront of Issues for 2020: Currently, marijuana is strictly prohibited in Virginia and previous marijuana legislation efforts in the General Assembly have failed.  However, with the advent of the November 2019 elections and democrats now controlling both the House of Delegates and the Senate, it appears that marijuana legislation is on the horizon.

Delegate Lee Carter pre-filed a bill (HB 87) for the 2020 legislative session that would decriminalize marijuana and allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers.  Additionally, the bill would impose a 10 percent tax to fund veteran initiatives, transportation, and local municipalities.  The bill also contains specific prohibited employment practices, which appear to limit an employer’s ability to discipline employees for use of marijuana outside of the workplace.  Finally, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring recently held a “Cannabis Summit” in Richmond to discuss decriminalizing marijuana and comprehensive marijuana reform, which includes recreational legalization.  This topic is gaining significant attention heading into 2020, so employers should pay close attention to the bill pre-filed with Virginia General Assembly.

Hurricane Headaches: HR Tips for Employers

Hurricane.jpgHurricane Dorian is approaching the Southeastern United States, and first and foremost, employers need to make sure their employees, customers, and guests are safe from the storm.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes have posed unique human resource (HR) challenges from wage-hour to FMLA leave and the WARN Act. The best protection is to have a plan in place in advance to ensure your employees are paid and well taken care of during a difficult time.

Although no one can ever be fully prepared for such natural disasters, it is important to be aware of the federal and state laws that address these situations. Our guidance can be used by employers in navigating through the legal and business implications created by events such as hurricanes.  In addition, the information may be applicable to other crises and disasters, such as fires, flu epidemics and workplace violence.

Frequently Asked Questions 

If a work site is closed because of the weather or cannot reopen because of damage and/or loss of utilities, am I required to pay affected employees?

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay their non-exempt employees only for hours that the employees have actually worked. Therefore, an employer is not required to pay nonexempt employees if it is unable to provide work to those employees due to a natural disaster.

An exception to this general rule exists when there are employees who receive fixed salaries for fluctuating workweeks. These are nonexempt employees who have agreed to work a specified number of hours for a specified salary. An employer must pay these employees their full weekly salary for any week in which any work was performed.

For exempt employees, an employer will be required to pay the employee’s full salary if the work site is closed or unable to reopen due to inclement weather or other disasters for less than a full workweek. However, an employer may require exempt employees to use available leave for this time. Continue reading

Memorial Day Reminder: Remember Your Obligations to Employees Currently Serving and Those Returning From Service

As we pashutterstock_1371695303used on Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives in active military service, employers should not forget that employees who are currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard (collectively, the “uniformed services”) are afforded a broad range of rights and protections by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”).  USERRA is a federal law that protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of the Guard and Reserves.  USERRA, like the Family and Medical Leave Act, includes both substantive job restoration rights—at the conclusion of one’s service—as well as non-discrimination and non-retaliation provisions.  The job restoration rights provided by USERRA, however, impose heightened obligations on employers in an effort to ensure the returning service member is not disadvantaged when reentering the workforce because of his or her service.  Many employers also do not realize that returning service members—those that return to the same employer from which they took leave to serve—may only be terminated for just cause for certain periods of time depending on the length of their service.

No discrimination or retaliation.  Let’s start with the easy part.  As you might expect, employers must not deny initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion or any benefit of employment to an individual on the basis of his or her military service.  Additionally, an employer cannot retaliate against an individual by taking any adverse employment action against him or her because the individual has acted to enforce protections under USERRA, testified or otherwise Continue reading

D.C. Paid Family Leave Law Advances Towards Implementation

D.C. is moving forward with proposed final regulations to implement its Paid Family Leave law, the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016, effective April 7, 2017 (D.C. Official Code 32-541.02(b)(2)).  The Rules are intended to create a regulatory framework for employers to register, opt-in, and opt-out for D.C.’s Paid Family Leave program.

As discussed in a prior blog post, all D.C. employers need to begin to prepare for the implementation of the program because starting July 1, 2019, the District will begin to collect quarterly taxes to fund the Paid Family Leave benefit, in the amount of .62 percent of the wages of its covered employees, based on wages beginning April 1, 2019.  The payroll tax will apply even if employers already provide paid leave benefits to its workers.

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Our firm has received several questions about the new rules, and below are some frequently asked questions about the Paid Family Leave law:

  1. Does the law apply to all employers in D.C.?

Yes.  Any sized employer doing business in D.C. is covered by this law, including small businesses, non-profit organizations, and self-employed individuals who opt into the program.

  1. I have employees who work in D.C. and other states outside of D.C., which employees are covered by this law?

Any employee who spends more than 50% of their work time in D.C. will be covered, and the employer must count their wages as subject to the payroll tax.

  1. Do wages include tips, commissions and other types of pay?

Wages will have the same meaning as provided for in D.C.’s unemployment compensation act, so all income will be counted as wages.

  1. Is there a minimum number of hours an employee must work before they are eligible for paid leave?

An employee is eligible for paid leave benefits as soon as they are hired, regardless of the number of hours worked for the employer, subject to a one week waiting period before benefits are paid.

  1. How much of paid leave is an employee entitled?

Starting on July 1, 2020, employees are entitled to paid leave benefits in the amount of eight (8) weeks for parental leave, six (6) weeks for those taking care of sick family members; and two (2) weeks for medical leave.  An employee can receive benefits under any one or a combination of paid leave provided under the Act.  However, employees are only entitled to receive payment for a maximum of 8 workweeks in a 52-workweek period, regardless of the number of qualifying leave events that occurred during that period.

For example, if an employee receives parental leave following the birth of twins, the employee is only entitled to 8 weeks of paid leave, not 16.  Also, if an employee receives 4 weeks of paid medical leave to care for a sick family member, and then takes parental leave a few months later, the employee is only entitled to an additional 4 weeks of paid leave within the 52-workweek period.

  1. Are there notice and record-keeping requirements?

Yes, employers are required to provide employees a notice (1) at the time of hiring; (2) annually; and (3) at the time the employer is aware that the leave is needed.  The notice must explain the employees’ right to paid leave benefits under the Act and the terms under which such leave may be used; that retaliation for requesting, applying for, or using paid leave benefits is prohibited; that an employee who works for an employer with under 20 employees shall not be entitled to job protection if he or she decides to take paid leave pursuant to the Act; and that the covered employee has a right to file a complaint and the complaint procedures established by the Mayor for filing a complaint.

Covered employers are also required to develop and maintain records pertaining to their obligations under the Act for no less then three years.

An employer that violates the notice requirement may be subject to a $100 civil penalty for each covered employee to whom individual notice is not delivered and $100 for each day that the covered employer fails to post notice in a conspicuous place.

  1. How does the Paid Family Leave law interact with the DCFMLA and existing employer paid leave policies?

The DC Family Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA), which provides for 16 weeks of unpaid leave, remains unchanged under the Act.  Therefore, employees are still eligible to take unpaid leave under DCFMLA.  When paid leave taken pursuant to the Act also qualifies for leave under the DCFMLA, the paid leave taken under the Act will run concurrently with, not in addition to, leave taken under other acts such as DCFMLA.  Nothing in the act provides job protection to any eligible individual beyond that to which an individual is entitled to under DCFMLA.

Eligible employers are not prohibited from providing individuals with leave benefits in addition to those provided under the Act but employers are still required to provide the paid leave benefits under the Act.  The provision of supplemental or greater paid leave benefits does not exempt the covered employer from providing or prevent an eligible employee from receiving benefits under the Act.

 

If your company employs workers in the District of Columbia, you should begin preparing for the tax collection now.  If you have any questions about this new law, contact one of our labor & employment attorneys in D.C.

 

US DOL Issues FMLA Opinion Letters Clarifying No Fault Attendance Policy Rules and…Organ Donation

By: Aaron R. Gelb

Until last week, the US Department of Labor (the “DOL”) had not issued an Opinion Letter regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”) since George W. Bush was packing up and preparing to leave the White House in January 2009.  DOL Iterp Letter ImageOn August 28, 2018, Bryan Jarrett, the Acting Administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (the “WHD”) issued two Opinion Letters—one addressing an important consideration facing employers with no-fault attendance policies and another that addresses whether organ donation surgery can qualify as a “serious health condition” under the FMLA for the purposes of taking leave.  While the answer to the latter question will likely not surprise anyone who regularly deals with employee requests for leave under the FMLA, the WHD’s opinion regarding whether and how points should be removed from an individual’s record while they are on protected leave does indeed provide much needed clarity on that topic.

But first, a bit of background regarding why the mere issuance of these letters is significant.  An opinion letter is an official, written opinion issued by the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL explaining how a certain law applies in specific circumstances described by an employer, employee, or other entity requesting the opinion. The DOL noted in a June 2017 press release that the Wage and Hour Division had been issuing opinion letters for more than 70 years until the Obama administration replaced them with general guidance memoranda in 2010.  “Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Secretary Acosta in the press release. “The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities,” said Secretary Acosta, explaining that such letters would enable employers to “concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

Turning to the two opinion letters issued on August 28, 2018, we will first address the leave for organ donation, then consider no-fault attendance policy rules. Continue reading