Although many employers have taken discretionary measures to protect essential employees, there are currently few mandated health and safety requirements at the federal or state level. On January 20, 2021, the Maryland General Assembly’s Senate and House of Delegates introduced the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act. With the bill, Maryland is now considering joining the growing group of states that are imposing requirements on employers who employ essential workers or require employees to work on-site. If passed, it would require employers who employ “essential workers” to provide additional benefits and protections throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and during future emergencies.
The bill includes an extensive list of requirements that would be imposed on covered employers. Specifically, it would require:
- Developing and enforcing a Health Emergency Preparedness Plan, which must be submitted to local and state officials by December 31st of each year;
- Reporting all positive cases of infectious diseases to the Maryland Department of Health and informing workers who may have been exposed;
- Providing paid leave for emergency-related reasons, including three days of bereavement leave and thirteen days of health leave;
- Paying a hazard pay of no less than three dollars per hour for each pay period actually worked during an emergency;
- Assisting with healthcare costs for employees with or without health coverage, including reimbursement and / or payment of copays and insurance premiums or assistance with obtaining and paying for health insurance coverage.
Employers who employ a remote workforce would not be subject to the aforementioned requirements.
While it has long been supported by labor unions that advocate imposing requirements to ensure safe working conditions and protect the health and safety of essential employees, the draft bill is likely to affect a broad range of Maryland employers, large and small. This includes any institution or industry that has been ordered to remain open and / or requires employees to work on-site. The burden imposed on affected businesses to remain operational during a crisis like COVID-19 would only be increased by implementing such a measure.
The bill outlines various consequences of non-compliance, ranging from an employee right to refuse to come to work without fear of retaliation if faced with dangerous conditions to potential monetary penalties up to $1,000 per occurrence of an “unsafe work environment.” Additionally, the bill imposes a two-year statute of limitations for filing complaints. If a violation is found, the relief that may be afforded can include compensatory damages, reinstatement of the essential worker if they were terminated, payment of back pay, and attorneys’ fees, among other things.
Any business or interested party that may be impacted by the proposed bill should immediately contact their state delegates and representatives to express support or opposition. The House of Delegates is scheduled to hold a hearing on February 5, 2021, at 11:00 AM ET, and the Senate hearing is scheduled for February 11, 2021, at 1:00 PM ET. If you wish to testify on the bill or submit written testimony, you may do so by signing up on the Maryland General Assembly website here. You can also contact elected officials directly with your concerns by visiting this link. While the House deadline has passed, the deadline to sign up to testify and / or submit written testimony is 3:00 PM ET on February 9, 2021, for the Senate hearing.