New Paid Leave Law in Maine Provides Employees Leave For Any Purpose

Maine is now the first state to pass legislation which provides paid leave time for employees to take for any reason they choose.

The law is entitled An Act Authorizing Earned Employee Leave (the Act) and was signed into law by Maine’s Governor, Janet Mills, on May 28, 2019. The Act requires covered employers to provide employees with one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year. Covered employers are those that employ more than 10 employees for more than 120 days in any calendar year (other than in seasonal employment). Approximately 85 percent of Maine’s private sector employees will receive paid leave under the new law. Employees of a covered employer will begin accruing paid leave time when they start employment; however, employers are not required to allow an employee to take paid leave until the employee has worked for 120 days during a one-year period. It is not clear whether the one-year period must be based on an employee’s anniversary, the calendar year, or some other 12 month period.

Although employees will be required to provide notice prior to taking leave (unless there is an emergency or other sudden necessity), such notice only has to be reasonable. There are no definitions in the law regarding what would be considered an emergency, sudden necessity, or reasonable. The law also requires that use of paid leave be scheduled to prevent undue hardship on the employer as reasonably determined by the employer. There is no guidance on whether a request for paid leave under the Act must comply with an employer’s notice procedures or whether an employer may require an employee to specify the duration of the leave.

During paid leave, an employer must pay the employee the same base rate of pay earned prior to taking leave and provide the same benefits as provided to other types of paid leave pursuant to the employer’s established policies. The taking of paid leave may not result in the loss of any accrued employee benefits.

Without additional guidance employers will struggle with compliance questions in regard to this law. For instance, there is no guidance on whether an employee would be permitted to carry hours from year to year. Further, it is not clear whether an employer may designate a minimum amount of leave for an absence under the law. It is also not clear whether employers must pay out unused accrued paid leave when employment ends. There will also be questions when reinstating a former employee or transferring an employee into a new role.

The Act exempts employees who are subject to a collective bargaining agreement which is in effect on January 1, 2021 until the expiration of the CBA.

Employers who violate the Act are subject to penalties of up to $1000.00 per violation.

The law becomes effective on January 1, 2021.

While Maine is the first state to enact such a sweeping paid leave law, other states have begun requiring employers to provide paid leave in certain situations. For instance, Maryland, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have all enacted limited paid sick leave laws.

As discussed, the Maine law does not provide a lot of guidance for employers who will be attempting to comply with the law. Maine’s Department of Labor has been charged with issuing rules that will assist employers with many open questions about their rights and obligations under the act; however, employers who may be subject to the law will undoubtedly grapple with it given the law’s broad and often undefined language.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.