In the latest Weekly Wright Report:
Paid Leave’s Arrival in Maryland: Time to Prepare for “Time to Care”
For Maryland employers, the most significant development from the General Assembly’s legislative session this year is the enactment—by way of an April 9 override of Governor Hogan’s veto—of the “Time to Care Act of 2022,” which, after much debate, brings paid leave to this State.
The Act does so by establishing the “Family And Medical Leave Insurance” (“FAMLI”) program, which will be administered by Maryland’s Secretary of Labor (the “Secretary”). Beginning January 1, 2025, the program will provide a “covered” employee up to 12 (and in certain circumstances 24) weeks per year of leave for certain purposes and related weekly benefits (i.e., monetary payments). To be “covered,” an employee must have “worked at least 680 hours over the 12-month period immediately preceding the date” on which leave is to begin. Leave can be taken to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child or a next-of-kin military-service member, to deal with a serious health condition afflicting the employee or a family member, or to address an exigency relating to a family member’s military deployment. (Leave can be taken intermittently, but not in increments of less than 4 hours.)
Weekly benefit amounts will range from $50 to $1,000, depending on a covered employee’s “average weekly wage,” and that range will be adjusted periodically for inflation. Benefits will be paid from a FAMLI “Fund,” managed by the Secretary, into which contributions will be made, beginning October 1, 2023, by all Maryland employees (through payroll deductions) and by employers with 15 or more employees. However, an employer can avoid certain of the Act’s administrative burdens by proposing to the Secretary its own “private plan consisting of employer-provided benefits, insurance, or a combination of both.” The Secretary’s approval of such a plan will exempt the employer and all of its employees from the Act’s monetary-contribution requirements.
The Act states that, as a general rule, an employer must, upon expiration of an employee’s qualifying leave, restore him or her to an “equivalent” job position. The only (apparently narrow) exceptions are that an employer may terminate an employee on leave “for cause” and may deny job restoration when necessary to “prevent substantial and grievous economic injury” to operations (if certain notification and/or consent requirements are also met). Also, an employee is entitled to continued health insurance coverage while taking leave or receiving benefits under the Act.
Next, the Act contains two notice requirements. First, an employer must give to each employee, upon hiring and each anniversary thereof, a written statement of his or her rights and responsibilities under the Act. Second, within 5 business days of becoming aware that an employee has requested or taken covered leave, an employer must notify that employee of his or her eligibility to take leave for which benefits may be payable under the Act, the procedure for filing claims for benefits under the Act, the Act’s job protection requirement, and the Act’s prohibitions, penalties, and complaint procedures. The Act requires the Secretary to develop standardized notices through which employers can comply with these requirements.
Finally, the Act contains enforcement procedures under which the Secretary can issue an order entitling an aggrieved employee to recover economic damages from a non-compliant employer and, if that employer disregards such an order, the aggrieved employee can, in a civil lawsuit, obtain a judgment against the employer for up to 3 times the amount of any lost compensation, as well as punitive damages, counsel fees, injunctive relief, and any other appropriate relief.
Given that the Act’s contribution requirements and leave entitlements do not “begin” until October 2023 and January 2025, respectively, employers have significant time to develop and implement compliance mechanisms. Employers should use this opportunity to integrate those mechanisms seamlessly into the processes through which they meet the leave-related requirements of other laws, such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and their own policies. It is no doubt time to prepare.
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USCIS Grants Automatic Extension of EAD Work Permits for Many
On May 3, 2022, USCIS published a Temporary Final Rule automatically extending renewal EAD work permits for a total of 540 days from the expiration date of the prior work permit up to 540 days. The rule will be valid from May 4, 2022 until October 27, 2023.
To be eligible, an applicant must be renewing an EAD work permit in a category currently eligible for an EAD automatic extension of 180 days. Applicants will be granted a total of 540 days of employment authorization from the expiration date of the prior EAD.
The additional automatic extension time applies to EAD renewal applications pending as of May 4, 2022 and renewal EAD applications filed after May 4, 2022 until October 26, 2023. For those whose employment authorization lapsed due to the expiration of the 180 day auto extension will also receive a total of 540 days extension from the date of expiration of the last EAD.
The EAD renewal applications to which this rule applies can be found at https://www.uscis.gov/eadautoextend.
This action is yet another step in reducing the hardships to employers and clients who have had to cease employment because of the lengthy USCIS adjudication delays. Our deepest congratulations to USCIS Director Ur Jaddou for taking this serious step to eliminating EAD backlogs.
Yet to be accomplished is expediting initial EAD work permits and we encourage USCIS to tackle this issue, particularly for health care workers and workers whose employment is in the national or public interest.
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