Federal and state laws protect your rights as an employee in Maryland. These laws outlaw harassment and discrimination, set wage and hour standards, and require employers to maintain a healthy, safe workplace, among other things. They apply to every phase of the employment relationship, from interviews and hiring to firing and beyond.
This article provides an introduction to some of the laws that protect Maryland employees.
Wage and Hour Laws in Maryland
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Maryland law set the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage protections. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. Currently, the Maryland minimum wage ($8.75) is higher than the federal ($7.25), so Maryland employees are entitled to be paid at least the state minimum wage.
Under the FLSA and Maryland law, employers in Maryland must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fit into an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime.
To learn more about Maryland wage and hour laws, visit the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.
Maryland Discrimination and Harassment Laws
The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making job decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Additional laws prohibit discrimination based on age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law). Employers may not discriminate in any part of the employment relationship, from job posts and application forms to hiring, promotions, pay and benefits, leave, discipline, layoffs, and firing. For detailed information on federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.
Maryland law protects employees from discrimination based on all of these traits. Maryland law also bans discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to Maryland’s state laws that prohibit discrimination. To file a complaint or learn more about Maryland’s laws prohibiting discrimination, visit the website of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.
It is also illegal to harass employees on the basis of a protected characteristic. Legally, harassment is defined as unwelcome behavior, comments, or actions that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that the victim is subjected to as a condition of employment. Sexual harassment – often in the form of unwanted touching, requests for dates, sexual comments, pornography, and so on – is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on race, national origin, and other protected traits.
If you complain about workplace harassment or discrimination, you are protected from retaliation. Your employer may not discipline, fire, or take other negative action against you because you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights), or in a lawsuit.
Time Off Work in Maryland
It’s customary in this country for employers to provide some paid leave to employees, such as vacation, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. Although a handful of states require employers to give employees paid sick days, neither Maryland nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.
However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:
- Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Maryland law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service. Maryland employees who are members of the state’s armed forces are entitled to these same rights. In addition, employers with at least 15 employees must allow employees who have at least 90 days with the company to take 15 or more days off per year to respond to an emergency mission of the Maryland wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
- Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness and caregiving, and sometimes longer. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through. Some states have similar laws that give employees leave rights; Maryland does not, however.
- Military family leave. The FMLA requires employers to provide time off for employees to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s call to active duty, as well as to care for a family member who has been seriously injured on active duty. Maryland employers must also allow employees to take a day off when a family member leaves for, or returns from, military duty. This provision applies only to employers with at least 50 employees.
- Adoption leave. Maryland employers that provide paid leave to new biological parents must make this same leave available to adoptive parents.
- Jury duty. Maryland employers must also allow employees to take unpaid time off work for jury service, and may not require them to use their paid leave benefits for this purpose.
- Voting. Maryland employees are entitled to take up to two hours off, with pay, to cast their ballots, unless they already have two hours of nonwork time when the polls are open.
Workplace Safety and Injuries
Employers are legally obligated to provide a workplace that is safe and free of known dangers. Employees are entitled to healthy, safe working conditions as well as the safety equipment and training required for their industry.
Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. It is illegal for employers to fire, discipline, or retaliate against employees who complain of unsafe or hazardous working conditions.
If you suffer an on-the-job injury, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Maryland employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.
Your Rights When You Leave Your Job in Maryland
Maryland employees generally work at will. This means they can quit at any time, and can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for filing an OSHA complaint or a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (for example, you are not fired for serious misconduct and you don’t quit voluntarily), you may qualify for unemployment benefits in Maryland. You must have earned a minimum amount before losing your job to be eligible. And, once you start receiving benefits, you will have to search for work to continue receiving them. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job.
Under a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you may have the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. However, you will have to pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay), and up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation and whether you have dependents.
More Information on Employment Laws in Maryland
For details on federal laws, including workers' comp, the FMLA, and minimum wage, see Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor on the U.S. Department of Labor website. For state rules, see the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
If you believe your employer has violated your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Maryland employment lawyer.