Small Maryland employers, including health care employers, need to know that, pursuant to the new Maryland Parental Leave Act (MPLA), employers with between 15 and 49 employees must now provide 6 weeks of unpaid leave to employees during any 12-month period for the birth of a child, or the placement of the child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
Since 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has required employers with 50 or more employees to provide 12 weeks of parental leave to eligible employees. Under the MPLA, smaller Maryland employers now join larger companies in having to provide parental leave.
A. Covered Employees
The new law applies to employers that employ between 15 and 49 employees in the State during each of 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
Individuals are eligible for the parental leave benefit if (1) they have been employed for at least a 12-month period and 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months as of the date the requested parental leave begins and (2) they are employed at a work site at which the employer employs at least 15 employees within 75 miles of the work site.
In general, an employee must give his/her employer written notice of the employee's intention to take parental leave at least 30 days in advance. That notice requirement does not apply in the case of a premature birth or an unexpected adoption or foster placement.
An employer may deny leave to an eligible employee if the denial is "necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury" to the business and the employer notifies the employee of the denial before the employee begins taking the leave.
B. Return to Work
An employee returning from parental leave is entitled to be restored to the position he/she held when the leave began, or to an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay and other terms and conditions of employment.
An employer may deny job restoration if the denial is necessary to prevent "substantial and grievous economic injury" to the business and the employer notifies the employee of its intent to deny job restoration at the time the employer determines economic injury will occur, and, in the case of a parental leave that has already begun, the employee elects not to return to work after receiving notice of the employer's intention not to restore the employee to his/her job.
Under the MPLA, an employer may only terminate the employment of an employee during a covered parental leave if the termination is "for cause."
An employer must maintain an eligible employee's coverage under a group health plan during any parental leave period on the same terms the coverage would have been provided if the employee had not taken leave. If the employee fails to return to employment after the leave ends, the employer may recover the premium the employer paid for maintaining the group health coverage, unless the employee fails to return because of circumstances beyond his/her control.
Leave under the MPLA is unpaid. An employer may require an employee, or the employee may elect, to substitute any available paid vacation leave for all or part of the unpaid parental leave period. Employees who work on a commission basis must be paid for any commission that becomes due during the MPLA leave because of work the employee performed before starting the leave.
D. Other Issues
Although the new parental leave law does not require employers to have a parental leave policy, it will generally be beneficial for employers to have a written policy that describes employee rights and obligations under the law. It will also be important to educate supervisors on the requirements of the new law. Supervisors must understand that retaliation is prohibited, and even discouraging employees from using their parental leave rights may lead to legal action against the employer.