By Lisa D. Sparks
Minimum Wage Increase
Over four years, Maryland’s minimum wage will rise to $10.10 per hour, starting with a bump to $8.00 per hour on January 1, 2015. Wages for tipped workers will still be half the usual minimum wage and exceptions are carved out for seasonal amusement and recreational staff. A training wage will be available for teenage workers in their first six months of employment at 85% of the usual minimum wage. Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties have instituted slightly higher increases which can be enforced by the Maryland Department of Labor and Licensing Regulation.
Protection of Gender Identity
Gender identity is now a protected status such that discrimination on that basis is prohibited. The law protects individuals in a range of circumstances, including public accommodations, housing, employment, leasing of property for commercial use, and the provision of certain services. For employers, non-discrimination in the workplace includes allowing employees to conform with the dress code and appearance standards applicable to their gender identities rather than biological sex.
Parental Leave for Small Business Employees
Maryland has filled part of a gap in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by extending unpaid parental leave to employees of small businesses with 15-49 employees, which are not covered by FMLA. The leave can be used for the birth or placement of a child and guarantees continued employment in the same or an equivalent position upon conclusion of the leave. Micro businesses, with fewer than 15 employees, remain outside the coverage of these policies and Maryland’s law excludes medical leave, making it narrower than FMLA.
Environmentally Preferable Procurement
The measure updates the membership and procedures of the Maryland Green Purchasing Committee, which operates to develop specifications for environmentally preferable purchasing by state agencies with agency reporting to the Department of General Services about such purchases.
Access to Public Records
To promote access to public information and improve the function of the Maryland Public Information Act, this law requires custodians of public records to provide a copy, printout, or photo of a public record upon application. Aggrieved individuals who were improperly denied access to the records are permitted to file a complaint with the appropriate Circuit Court to obtain relief. In a separate enactment, the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government is ordered to study possible improvements to the administrative process for resolving appeals under the Maryland Public Information Act, further improving access to information.
Extension of the Small Business Reserve Program
Around now for 10 years, the Small Business Reserve Program will continue to operate with expanded qualification criteria, based on either gross sales or number of employees, rather than both. The program requires state procurement units to set aside 10% of procurements, by dollar value, for small businesses.
New Ombudsman Program
The new Office of the Business Ombudsman housed within the Governor’s office is intended to improve relations between Maryland businesses and state government. It will, among other things, assist businesses with access to economic development resources and programs and permits for business initiatives.