The segments below provide a brief overview of MACo’s work in the area of employee benefits and employee relations in the 2020 General Assembly.
MACo advocates for fair state laws governing employment practices, labor representation, and employer-employee relationships. MACo becomes particularly engaged when a proposal has a disproportionate or unique effect on public sector employees – frequently those affecting public safety employees or other public workers who engage in sensitive functions.
This year, for the first time since the Civil War, the General Assembly closed session early on March 18, due to precautionary social distancing measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, many bills did not have hearings or did not move forward due to time constraints to meet the new deadline. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
Workers’ Compensation – Legal Fees
MACo opposed legislation that would have potentially made counties and other employers liable for payment of up to $2,000 in a covered employee’s legal fees in workers’ compensation cases. Counties expressed concern for the potentially significant financial burden for county governments and other employers, and how the changes would disturb the fair balance of party interests in the entire Workers’ Compensation scheme. This legislation did not advance following hearings in the House and Senate.
MACo supported with amendments legislation that require Maryland’s largest jurisdictions – Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties – to submit information to the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights regarding employment discrimination complaints. Counties expressed concerns that the language specifying a number of complaints, rather than the number of substantiated claims, would skew and inflate perceived wrongdoing. In fact, some counties already voluntarily comply with this bill, and MACo does not take issue with the idea of reporting this information to the Commission, as long as it is done in a manner to reflect completed findings. Maryland Commission on Civil Rights – Employment Discrimination – Reporting passed through the House Health and Government Operations Committee with an amendment addressing county concerns. The bill was referred to the Senate where it failed to advance before the close of session.
Criminal History at Employment (“Ban the Box”)
MACo opposed legislation that would limit fire departments, rescue squads, and ambulance services from requiring an applicant to disclose their criminal record or criminal accusations before the first in-person interview. Counties asserted that public safety employees – routinely called upon to enter people’s property, and to engage with people at their most vulnerable – should be exempt from any type of “ban the box” legislation. Counties also pointed out that it would place a burden on public safety services to implement peer review committees to consider potential hires, when personnel should be providing care and service to the community they serve. Public Safety – Criminal History Records Check – Fire Departments, Rescue Squads, and Ambulance Services did not advance out of committee following the public hearings in the Senate and House.
Health and Benefits Program
MACo members voted to oppose legislation that would allow volunteer first responders to enroll and participate as covered employees in the State Employee and Retiree Health and Welfare Benefits Program, regardless of hours served, and authorize the State to charge a county or municipal corporation certain costs resulting from certain covered employees participating in the Program. This unfunded mandate would have potentially significant implications for county budgets. The bill was withdrawn by the sponsor before a hearing was held and received an unfavorable report from the House Appropriations Committee.
Wage History and Range
MACo supported with amendments legislation that, as introduced, prohibits employers from relying on past wage history information to determine an applicant’s salary or a current employee’s salary when considering that employee for a new position, including a promotion. Counties, however, expressed concerns that prohibiting county employers from considering current wages in the internal promotion or transfer of current employees could undermine many local government pay systems, which frequently rely on a standardized scale of wages when considering the internal promotion of current employees.
Labor and Employment – Wage History and Wage Range received favorable reports in both the House and Senate with amendments that removed rights for applicants to file suit and reduced amounts of civil penalties for violations. MACo’s amendment to be exempt was not adopted. The bill passed both chambers with amendments before Session closed and was sent to the Governor for his signature.
For more on employee benefits and employee relations legislation tracked by MACo during the 2020 legislative session, click here.