Providing paid leave in some form — vacation, sick leave or family leave — is increasingly in the news cycle. Recently, the state of Maine went a step further. The Pine Tree state passed a law allowing employees to accrue and take leave for any reason.
Gov. Janet Mills signed “An Act Authorizing Earned Employee Leave,” on May 28. The new law mandates that employees can accrue one hour of paid leave time for every 40 hours worked at their base rate of pay, for a maximum of 40 hours of paid time off per year.
The paid leave law is expected to benefit 85% of the workers in the state, according to a press statement from Gov. Mills’ office, affecting about 200,000 Maine workers.
Small employers — those with fewer than 10 workers — will be exempt from the law, which also does not apply to seasonal businesses. The governor’s office has estimated that this means that the bill exempts more than 40,000 of Maine’s 50,792 businesses.
The law is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2021.
The amended bill “won strong bipartisan support in the Legislature, including a 9-to-1 vote in favor by the Labor and Housing Committee, and has the backing of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce,” according to the governor’s office.
“Under the stewardship of Governor Mills, this legislation has achieved a balance which will minimize detriments to Maine businesses while supporting working families and strengthening our economy,” Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “While no one achieved everything they wanted, this new law is the product of bipartisan work, and I am thankful for how we have come together since its introduction.”
What’s in the Maine Paid Leave Law
While the Maine paid leave law is the first-of-its-kind in the country, it does include boundaries, rules and exemptions. Here are a few of the key points made within the regulation.
- 120 Days: Employees must work for an employer for 120 days before an employer is required to grant use of accrued earned paid leave.
- Base Pay: Employers must pay an employee taking earned leave at least the same base rate of pay that employee received immediately prior to taking earned leave.
- Benefits Coverage: Employers must maintain benefits, including health insurance, for employees on leave on the same terms and conditions as similarly situated employees.
- Employee Notice: Employees have to provide reasonable notice for taking earned leave to their supervisor of the their intent to use earned leave unless prevented to do so by an emergency, illness or other sudden necessity.
- Undue Hardship: Leave must be scheduled to prevent undue hardship on the employer as reasonably determined by the employer. Many employers are familiar with the concept of undue hardship as federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act require that employers must comply unless doing so would cause the employer to suffer undue hardship, which is often defined as “significant cost taking into account the employer’s size.” In this instance, it seems that the legislature is placing much of the responsibility on employers to determine if the employee’s request for leave causes undue hardship.
- Collective Bargaining Provision: Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement from January 1, 2021 until the expiration of the agreement are exempted from the new law.
- Municipalities Provision: Municipalities are barred from passing their own paid leave rules.
A $1000 Fine for Violations
The law does not provide any carryover, employer notice or posting requirements. However, covered employers might want to check with the state’s Department of Labor to see if it will be issuing regulations that contain additional requirements.
Employers who fail to provide leave are subject to a $1,000 fine for each violation.
Of course, employers are free to provide more generous benefits than those mandated by the new state law.
According to National Council of State Legislatures, 10 states have paid sick laws. But Maine is the first state to require employers to give their employees paid leave that can be used at the employee’s option, including non-medical personal reasons.
This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.