State and federal employment laws benefit employees from unlawful activities from hiring to discharge. All Maine workers should be familiar with the employment laws that affect them.
Basics in Hiring Practices
Any employment advertisement, as well as hiring decisions, must not discriminate and be based on factors other than personal characteristics such as race, gender, national origin, religion and disability.
Employers must stay away from questions regarding race, national origin and religion, as well as marital status, children or arrest records. They may ask if a disabled person needs an accommodation to perform the job.
Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws
Minimum wage and overtime laws are regulated under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act regarding which workers are covered under minimum wage and overtime requirements. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, while Maine’s is $7.50.
Employers can consider the tips of service employees as part of their wages if it does not exceed 50 percent of the state minimum wage. Service employees include waitpersons, bellhops and bartenders who receive more than $30 per month in tips. Eligible employees get overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week and must receive a minimum of $11.25 per hour.
Those exempt from the state minimum and overtime laws include most agricultural workers; executive, administrative and professional employees earning a wage of at least $455 per week; taxi drivers; fishermen; unsupervised home workers and outside salespersons who earn commissions.
State and federal law OSHA and other laws require a safe and danger-free work area and site for all employees. Employees are entitled to protection for exposing safety violations and may report them anonymously.
Workers' Compensation Insurance
Most employers having permanent or temporary full- or part-time workers must maintain workers’ compensation coverage. This is a no-fault system for workers injured on the job or who contract an occupational disease. The system provides weekly wage loss compensation, payment of medical bills and prescriptions, vocational rehabilitation, disability payments, payments for loss of a body part and death benefits to survivors. Statutory guidelines provide the amount of benefits to be paid.
Those not covered include some seasonal workers and private domestic servants.
Paid and Unpaid Leave
The federal Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) applies to companies with at least 50 employees and all public and state employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year. They may take up to 12 weeks, per 12 months, of unpaid leave to care for a family member or to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. Employees with serious medical conditions may take time off. Employees may also take up to 26 months to care for a military family member.
Maine has its own law covering people who work for employers with 15 or more workers. Domestic partners who have lived with the worker for at least 12 months and share living and financial arrangements are also covered. The law allows up to 10 weeks of leave in any 48-month period.
The state has no law regulating time off for workers to vote on Election Day.
No employee may be subjected to any form of harassment under state and federal laws. This includes making sexually explicit comments or jokes, displaying photos or drawings, or sending emails that create a hostile working environment. Employees and supervisors may not engage in conduct that threatens or intimidates another employee or that is unwanted physical contact of any kind.
Harassment usually means sexual conduct, but it refers to any offensive gesture, comment or any other activity that is directed at workers based on their religion, national origin, gender, race or disability. The conduct must not be ongoing or pervasive as well.
An employee who has been disciplined, discharged or demoted or who voluntarily resigns based on a hostile working environment may have an actionable claim against the employer.
Maine allows employers and employee to end their employment at any time and to fire an employee for any legal reason if there is no written contract or if the contract states that it is “at-will.”
Employers, however, cannot fire someone based on discrimination, harassment, pregnancy, age, work-related injury or illness.
There are no federal laws regarding vacation pay, but Maine does require employers to pay out accrued and unused vacation time when the employment is terminated.
Unemployment and COBRA
Eligible employees are residents or in-state workers who must have been terminated through no fault of their own, not be disabled, be actively seeking work and be able to work.
Federal law requires employers with at least 20 full-time employees to allow discharged workers the right to continue group health benefits for up to 18 months. The state has a mini-COBRA law covering employers with two to 19 full-time employees who must extend coverage for up to 12 months from the day the group coverage ends.
Ask an Employment Attorney
The state employment laws are more complex than presented in this brief article. Ask an employment attorney in Maine if you have questions regarding employment laws that affect you.