POLICY PAPER: Worker Protections

The General Assembly’s recent focus on worker protections have centered around four main reforms: raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick leave, guaranteeing paid family leave, and establishing stronger anti-retaliation protections. It is critical that the legislature continues to push for reform to offer all workers a living wage, mitigate negative unemployment trends seen nationally, and protect against discriminatory employment practices.

Guaranteeing Paid Sick Leave

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Law, passed in 2017, was a major step forward for workers in the state, however, the new law did not cover injury, illness, or conditions related to a public health emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the shortfalls of the 2017 legislation with many workers forced to work in unsafe work conditions, coming to work sick, and unable to care for sick family members. Other loopholes, such as lack of paid sick leave benefits for gig economy workers and seasonal agricultural workers, contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. In response to the pandemic, the legislature passed “The Essential Workers Protection Act,” which extends some paid sick leave benefits to workers during a public health emergency, but only under certain conditions, and if funding is available to employers. There continues to be a need to amend Maryland’s paid sick leave law in order to close loopholes and extend sick leave benefits to more workers.

Guaranteeing Paid Family Leave

In 2018, a mere 16% of workers in private industry nationally had access to paid family leave — this number is staggeringly low. Statistics representing those with access to paid family leave are significantly lower among Blacks and Hispanics, those without college degrees, and individuals with low incomes – these same individuals are most likely to experience complications related to Covid-19 and to feel the most financial strain during a recession. Unpredictable access to paid family leave means less disposable income to go towards housing, food, and healthcare; increasing reliance on public assistance programs; and bolstering debt accumulation among vulnerable populations. Guaranteeing paid family leave serves as an opportunity to equip households with financial safety nets during downturns and would boost Maryland’s economy in the long-run. Strong Future Maryland is a member of the Time to Care Coalition and continues to work to pass paid family leave in Maryland. See Strong Future Maryland’s policy paper on paid parental leave here.

A Living Wage

Two Maryland jurisdictions already had minimum wages above the statewide rate (currently $11) prior to the passage of the statewide minimum wage increase (also known as Fight for 15): Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Montgomery County passed Bill 28-17 in November of 2017, raising the county’s minimum wage incrementally until it reaches $15 in 2022 for large employers, three years earlier than it will statewide under HB166. The table below breaks down the incremental increases in minimum wage (beginning each year on July 1) based on the size of each company.

Effective date Large employer Mid-sized employer Small employer
July 1, 2020 $14 $13.25 $13
July 1, 2021 $15 $14 $13.50
July 1, 2022 $15+ CPI-W $14.50 $14

CPI-W = Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers

In Prince George’s County, under Subtitle 13A of the county’s Labor Code, which was amended in 2019, the minimum wage is set at $11.50/hour until 2021. At that time, the county will abide by the state rates set in HB166.

Major Maryland Workers’ Protections Organizations & Groups

  • Maryland District of Columbia AFL-CIO
  • Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc.
  • Marylanders for Food and Farm Worker Protection Coalition
  • United Food & Commercial Workers Union (Baltimore)

Key Legislative History

2021 – Applicability, Bargaining Processes, and Memorandums of Understanding for Collective Bargaining

This bill requires the University System of Maryland to negotiate one contract through one collective bargaining process with the state’s higher education employees and workers. The current system requires each institution within the USM system to negotiate their own contract with the employees on their campus. This results in dramatically different collective bargaining processes, wages, benefits and protections across the USM system. This legislation makes the collective bargaining process more fair and equitable. Companion bills were filed by Senator Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery) and Delegate Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery).

2021 – Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act

This bill provides protections for essential workers during an emergency and creates requirements around occupational health and safety and transparency regarding hazard pay for employers. The bills were introduced by Senator Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s) and Delegate Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s). 

2019 – Fight for 15 (Increasing the Minimum Wage)

HB166 (Fight for 15) was sponsored by Senator Cory McCray & Delegate Diana Fennell in 2019 and crossfiled with SB280. The bill intended to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour at all companies by 2025 for companies with 15 or more employees; July 2026 for companies with fewer than 15 employees. The bill passed both in the House and Senate, but was then vetoed by Governor Hogan, who cited concerns over potential job losses and financial strain on small businesses, as well as the impact the law will have on rural areas more dependent on locally-owned businesses. The veto was overridden (96-43) by the General Assembly and is now law.

2017- Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (Paid Sick Leave)

In 2016, when legislative action was first introduced, only 61% of workers in the private sector had paid sick leave, while 92% of workers in state and local governments had paid sick leave. In the 2016 regular session, the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act was initially introduced as HB0580, sponsored by Delegate Luke Clippinger, and crossfiled with SB0472. The bill intended to require all companies with 15 or more employees to guarantee fully-paid sick and safe leave and require companies with 14 or fewer employees to provide unpaid sick and safe leave. The bill died in the Senate after being re-referred to the Finance Committee.

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act was reintroduced in the 2017 regular session, again by Delegate Luke Clippinger, as HB0001 and crossfiled with SB0230. It passed in the House 88-52 and in the Senate. The law covers the use of sick and safe leave for one’s own injury, illness, or condition, to care for a family member’s injury, illness, or condition, preventative medical care, maternity and paternity leave, and any instances and aftermath of domestic violence or power-based violence. The law notably does not cover injury, illness, or conditions related to a public health emergency.

(Ongoing) Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program (Paid Family Leave)

HB839, sponsored by Delegate Kriselda Valderram in the 2020 regular session and crossfiled with SB0539, sought to establish the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program and FAMLI Fund. These initiatives would provide a maximum of 12 weeks of benefits, based off of average weekly salary, for personal and familial reasons including illness or military deployment beginning in 2022. The bill died in the House Economic Matters Committee.

(Ongoing) Anti-Retaliation

Revisions to the Maryland Wage and Hour Law and Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law were introduced through SB0641 in the 2020 regular session and crossfiled with HB1097. The bill was sponsored by Senators Joanne Benson, Mary Washington, and Susan Lee and sought to expand upon existing anti-retaliation provisions in order to prevent discrimination.