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.

Trump Picks Fast Food Restaurant CEO Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary: Seismic Shift Is Anticipated in Agency’s Rulemaking and Enforcement

By: Andrew J. Sommer

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Andrew Puzder as his Secretary of Labor, according to Trump’s transition team. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Holdings, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, and has been a vocal critic of the Obama Labor Department’s overtime regulations and efforts to increase the federal minimum wage. As labor secretary, Puzder will oversee the federal apparatus that investigates violations of minimum wage, overtime and workplace safety laws and regulations.

An increase in the federal minimum wage and an expansion in overtime eligibility have been priorities for the outgoing Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. On Perez’s watch, the DOL has issued new overtime regulations increasing the minimum salary threshold level in order to qualify an employee as exempt from overtime. Puzder has denounced this new overtime rule, the status of which is presently uncertain after a Texas federal court temporarily blocked the rule from taking effect. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has just granted the DOL’s request to expedite its appeal from the preliminary injunction order. The appeal is unlikely to be decided before Donald Trump is inaugurated as the next president on January 20, 2017.

Accordingly, under Puzder’s leadership, the DOL could very well withdraw the pending appeal before a decision is issued by the Fifth Circuit and otherwise not support the new overtime rule. Even if the overtime rule eventually takes effect, Puzder’s arsenal will include the authority to engage in rulemaking to roll back or modify the overtime rule, consistent with the notice and comment process under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. In an op-ed piece earlier this year in Forbes, Puzder said that the overtime regulation will “add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama Administration has imposed on employers, forcing many to offset increased labor expense by cutting costs elsewhere.” He expressed the opinion that this cost cutting would result in reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits and promotions.

Other immediate measures that Puzder could take to shift or reverse the direction of the DOL would be to modify interpretive guidance issued under the Obama Administration. For instance, Puzder will likely modify an administrative interpretation by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division regarding the joint employer doctrine. Under Obama, the DOL has cracked down on employee misclassification and been vocal about its belief that most workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in a majority of cases, it would hold employers accountable for the specific obligations of an employer-employee relationship. The Wage and Hour Division has offered an administrative interpretation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act that broadened the definition of joint employment. Under that doctrine, two employers may be responsible for the violations of each other because of how they jointly use the same employees or because of the control an employer exercises over the employees of an intermediary employer such as a contractor or staffing agency.

Puzder’s authority to impact regulatory and enforcement actions will extend to the DOL’s administration of guest worker programs, allowing foreign nationals to immigrate to the United States and work on a temporary basis, as well as the DOL’s coordination with the Department of Homeland Security over the enforcement of immigration laws in the workplace. It is uncertain what will happen under a Labor Secretary Puzder, whose past immigration stance is at odds with the President Elect’s. In an op-ed piece Puzder authored in The Wall Street Journal last year, he counseled Republican presidential candidates to come up with a vision of how to deal with immigration, including the 11 million undocumented workers already in the country. He supported a “path to legal status” that would be “short of citizenship” so long as the undocumented pass a background check, pay a fine and learn English, among other measures.

Ultimately, employers may benefit most from Puzder’s authority to reallocate agency resources away from agency enforcement actions for labor law violations. Under Obama, the Wage and Hour Division has been very active in enforcing labor laws and investigating industries and workplaces with a history of labor law violations. Puzder could slow down enforcement and conduct fewer investigations. The first few months of a Puzder Labor Department may be telling as we continue to read the tea leaves to assess how employers will be affected by the change in administration.

D.C. and Maryland Set to Increase Minimum Wage on July 1, 2016

As ostack of moneyf July 1, both Maryland’s and the District of Columbia will increase the minimum wage.  Maryland’s minimum wage will increase to $8.75 per hour while the District of Columbia’s will increase to $11.50 per hour.  Employers should be prepared to implement these changes on July 1 to avoid wage complaints and make the appropriate changes to their business models to remain competitive.

Maryland

The raise in the Maryland minimum wage is a result of legislation that was passed in May of 2014.  The Maryland Minimum Wage Act of 2014 calls for the minimum wage to ultimately be raised to $10.10 per hour by July of 2018.  The raise that will go into effect in less than two weeks is a .50 cent increase from the current $8.25 minimum wage.  Although the minimum wage is set to increase, there is no increase in the amount employers are required to pay tipped employees.  Therefore, employees receiving over $30 per month in tips only need to be paid $3.63 per hour, and the remainder may be supplemented by the tip credit.

Employers in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, the two counties neighboring the Washington, D.C. area, should also take note that the counties Continue reading

Don’t Wager Your Company on Incorrect Wages in 2016

As we transition into 2016, it is essential that employers are aware of and plan for changes to employee wage requirements and the increased emphasis on wage and hour compliance. For at least the past decade, the number of wage and hour claims filed in federal courts has increased exponentially and 2016 looks like it will be much of the same with fuel for a significant rise. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2000, employees filed only 1,935 claims for violations of the Fair Labor StandardIncreasing Money Graphs Act. At the end of FY 2014, that number had increased by more than 420% to 8,160 wage and hour lawsuits filed in federal court. In FY 2015, the trend continued with 8,781 wage and hour cases based on data released by a national law firm from the Federal Judicial Center. This represents a 7.6% rise in these types of suits from 2014. With employees filing wage and hour claims on a much more frequent basis, compliance is of even greater importance and 2016 looks to present some additional challenges on that front.

An Increasing Minimum Wage

Last year, many employers saw an increase in the required minimum wage at the state level, as well as a rise at the federal level for federal contractors. For many states and federal contractors, 2016 will bring another round of higher minimum wages. Continue reading