New Law in Maine Provides Paid Time Off for Any Purpose
On Tuesday, May 28, 2019, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a progressive bill that will allow employees in Maine to accrue paid leave that can be used for any purpose. According to Governor Mills, the law will cover approximately 85% of Maine’s workforce. Eligible employees will begin accruing leave under the law on January 1, 2021.
The legislation, S.P. 110, L.D. 369, titled “An Act Authorizing Earned Employee Leave,” establishes the first statewide “no-strings-attached” paid leave mandate.
Private Employers With 10 or More Employees Must Provide Paid Leave
The paid leave law applies to Maine businesses that employ at least 10 employees for more than 120 days in the calendar year.
Eligible employees will accrue 1 hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, capped at an annual maximum of 40 hours of paid leave. Paid leave must be provided at the employee’s base rate of pay. An employee using accrued paid leave provided by the law is entitled to the same leave-related benefits “as those provided under established policies of the employer pertaining to other types of paid leave.”
Maine’s Unionized Employees May Be Temporarily Out of Luck Under the Act
There are no length of service, number of hours worked, or other eligibility requirements for employees to earn paid leave. This means that temporary workers and part-time employees must accrue paid leave in accordance with the law. Eligible employees hired on or after January 1, 2021 will start accruing leave immediately upon hire.
However, there are two noteworthy restrictions imposed by the law. First, it allows employers to require that employees wait up to 120 days after beginning employment before they can use the paid leave they have accrued. As a result, employees who are engaged on a short-term basis or switch jobs frequently may not have the opportunity to use accrued paid leave.
Second, employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement that is in effect on January 1, 2021, are not entitled to paid leave under the law until the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. As a practical matter, this could mean that unionized workers do not receive the paid leave benefits required by the law until years after the non-represented employees of the same employer.
Notice Requirements Under the Act
Paid leave can be used for any purpose, without restriction. However, the law requires employees to provide “reasonable” advance notice of their intent to use paid leave, unless an emergency, illness, or other sudden necessity precludes prior notice.
An employee scheduling paid leave is required to work with the employer to schedule leave in a manner that prevents undue hardship on the employer. “Undue hardship” is not defined under the law, but typical considerations would include the size of the employer’s business, the number of employees, the nature of the business, the role of the employee requesting leave, and the availability of coverage in light of the length and timing of the requested leave.
Consequences for Failing to Comply With the Act Include Civil Penalties
Employers who violate the law will be subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per violation. Therefore, employers in Maine should review their established leave policies and paid time off systems ahead of the law’s effective date. Although paid leave accrual under the law will not begin for approximately 18 months, employers should consider modifying policies in advance and addressing the issue in any negotiations with unions or other employee organizations set to occur in 2019 or 2020.
Municipalities Prohibited From Passing Local Paid Leave Ordinances
On a very final note, the law as revised by an amendment offered by Governor Mills herself prohibits municipalities in Maine from instituting paid leave regulations. As a result, Maine workers should not expect to become the beneficiaries of any additional paid leave measures at the local level, such as the sick leave proposal that was voted down by the Portland City Council earlier this month.