The Maryland Healthy Retail Employee Act is the state’s first law requiring meal and rest breaks for workers in certain occupations. The law went into effect on March 1, 2011 and covers retail stores with 50 or more workers. It does not cover restaurants or wholesale dealers. The law also excludes mail-order or Internet sales businesses when more than 50% of sales occur without the customer physically present in the store.
The law also requires shorter 15-minute breaks under some conditions. A Maryland retail employee who works a shift of 4 to 6 hours is entitled to a non-working break of at least 15 minutes, but is not entitled to a 30-minute break.
An employee who works 8 or more hours must be given the 30-minute break plus a non-working break of 15 minutes for every four additional consecutive hours. For example, an employee who works 16 consecutive hours must be given the 30-minute break, plus two 15-minute non-working breaks.
Under the federal FLSA, employees are entitled to payment for any break that is less than 20 minutes, so the 15-minute breaks must be paid.
Corporate employees or office employees who do not work on the sales floor are not included in the total number of employees. A company that had 49 sales clerks and one office manager would not be covered by the law. However, stores that have several locations must count all the employees in the state to determine if they have 50 retail employees.
The new break law is enforced by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation or DLLR, with fines starting at $300 per employee.
There are two exceptions under the new Maryland break law: (more…)
Under this law, “leave with pay” includes vacation, PTO, sick leave, and personal leave. It also includes compensatory time, or “comp time” for those agencies or employers that provide it. Employees can only use paid leave that has been earned. Employers are not required to grant leave that has been accrued but not earned, under this law.
The act defines immediate family as a child, spouse or parent. .
The new Maryland law does not require that employers offer paid leave of any sort. However, when a Maryland employer does offer such leave, he or she must permit employees to use it when a family member is sick.
The Maryland minimum wage will increase to $6.55 per hour, along with the federal minimum wage on July 24, 2008. Under the Maryland minimum wage statute, the state rate is replaced by the federal rate, if the federal minimum wage is higher.
Currently the Maryland minimum wage is $6.15 per hour and has been unchanged since February 16, 2006. The federal minimum wage is $5.85 per hour, a change that was effective in July 2007.
A recent change to the Maryland wage and hour regulations was prompted by a state court decision that in some cases, vacation can be considered “earned wages.” According to the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry website, employees are entitled to payment for earned and unused vacation at termination, unless the employer specifically has a written policy in place that prohibits such payment.
The court’s ruling was not entirely clear, and it’s possible that in the near future, every Maryland employer will have to pay earned vacation time upon termination. A few employers are already doing so, as a precaution.
Maryland has many exceptions to the state’s minimum wage laws. In Maryland, as in other states, employees are covered by the federal FLSA or Fair Labor Standards Act if the employer generates more than $500,000 in revenue each year, or if the employee engages in interstate commerce.
Employees who work for smaller companies are covered under the state minimum wage law.
The Maryland minimum wage statute, as well as the FLSA, entitle most workers to an overtime premium when they work more than 40 hours in one week. Workers must be paid 1.5 times their usual hourly wage for overtime.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 is a three-step process to increase the federal minimum wage over three years. The first increase occurred on July 24, 2007, raising the 2006 wage by 70 cents from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour. The second increase is scheduled for July 24, 2008, the third on July 24, 2009, for a total increase of $2.10 per hour.
This increase to the federal minimum wage is the first in over a decade. Full-time minimum wage workers will see a total increase of $84 per week, or $4,368 per year.
The increase has supporters and detractors. Supporters stress that the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour in 2006 purchased less, than the $1.60 per hour minimum wage in 1968. Amazingly, the federal minimum wage would have to go up to $9.12 per hour to match the 1960s purchasing powers.
Detractors of the increase are concerned that upping the federal minimum will diminish employment opportunities for entry level and for unskilled workers.
The federal minimum wage applies to companies with more than 50 workers, or with annual earnings greater than $500,000, or employers that conduct business interstate. Interstate business can include regular mailings to potential customers in another state, manufacturing goods for out-of-state sale, or purchasing supplies from out-of-state vendors.
The entire company doesn’t have to engage in interstate commerce for the employees to be eligible for the federal minimum wage. For instance, an administrative assistant who answers out-of-state calls could be eligible for a federal minimum wage salary.
In many states, the state-mandated minimum wage is greater than the federal minimum. If an employee qualifies for both state and federal minimum, that employee is entitled to whichever wage is greater.
The U. S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division enforces the federal minimum wage law and wants to remind employers that paying a worker less than minimum is a violation of the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938). In addition, every worker is entitled to receive their paycheck on their regular payday.
U.S. Labor Department statistics indicate that violence in the workplace has become less common. But, that data is belied by recent news reports.
Maryland employers must establish emergency anti-violence programs to train managers and workers how to respond to workplace violence, and how to help prevent it. Incidents of violence on the job in 2007, plus a number of recent events highlight just how vital it is for companies to implement these plans.
On October 5, 2007, in Alexandria, Louisiana, John Ashley, a retired city maintenance worker shot 5 persons in a law office downtown. When police responded to the scene, Ashley fought off several attempts by police to rescue the workers. After a 10 hour standoff, the police used explosives and entered the building. Ashley and the police exchanged gunfire, resulting in Ashley’s death. Three of the workers were injured, but alive. The other two died.
A more recent incident alarmed the entire nation, particularly those with loved ones on college campuses. On February 14, Steven Kazmierczak burst into a lecture hall on the DeKalb, Illinois campus of Northern Illinois University (NIU) and opened fire. Six people were killed and 16 were injured. Kazmierczak ended the spree by shooting himself.
Described as a calm, committed student by professors, former NIU graduate student Kazmierczak was very interested in studies of Criminal Justice. A current graduate student in social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, Kazmierczak was reported by police to have been off his medications for three weeks and acting strangely. Jessica Baty, Kazmierczak’s girlfriend, argued that Steven was stressed from school, but not overly so, and that he’d bought the two guns for “home security.”
Labor Day weekend 2007 saw a tragic shooting at an Orlando Denny’s. There, a waitress was stabbed by her husband inside the restaurant on International Drive. Paramedics did their best to save her, but the woman died of her wounds. The stabbing was witnessed by several families who had just left Walt Disney World. Coworkers and customers chased the husband, who escaped over a fence, leaving behind one of his shoes.
Two more incidents occurred in February, involving a robbery gone bad in Tinley Park, Illinois where 6 women were shot (5 died) in a Lane Bryant store. The other involved the city officials in Kirkwood, Missouri. An armed political activist, who had twice been ejected from meetings, burst in and shot 6 members of the city council. The mayor survived, but two police officers and three city officials were killed.
Workplace violence is a continuing tragedy. Two recent episodes, in Missouri and Illinois, were only the latest. Several incidents took place during 2007, including the shocking incident at Virginia Tech.
In that episode on April 16, without a doubt the worst of 2007, a young man killed 32 students and staff members, wounded 17 others, and then took his own life as police moved in on him.
The young man, Seung-Hui Cho, displayed a number of what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, calls warning signs of violence in the workplace. He had a history of mental health problems but was not seeking treatment for them. He exhibited fits of rage and an unhealthy interest in weapons. The youth also had a history of obsession-like crushes on women he barely knew, and engaged in behavior bordering on stalking with these casual acquaintances.
During a tragic event in September, two students, both 17 years old, were shot to death outside a dining hall on the campus of Delaware State University. The school was put on lockdown after the shooting near the school sports arena, and later a student was interviewed regarding the episode. The roughly 1,700 students on campus were confined to their dormitories. Many were informed by cell phone of the incident and the lockdown.
Workers at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, have delayed a planned hunger strike to protest low wages until Saturday September 8, 2007. The workers reached the decision after hearing encouraging words about an increase in wages from the governor at a Labor Day prayer service and rally at the Light Street Presbyterian Church.
Workers insist that the issue is dignity and respect, rather than simply money. “Every time I go to work here, I feel like less of a person because of what I have to go through,” said Lamont Pollard. He also said that workers are not given rubber gloves and other needed supplies, and are required to eat their meals in the restrooms. Pollard has worked for 3 years cleaning up after games. “When I leave, I feel better – like I just got out of jail. It shouldn’t be like that,” he added.
Workers displayed a sign that read, “Now we hunger for justice”, a quote from Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American labor leader who regularly launched hunger strikes to protest unfair working conditions, especially among migrant farm workers.
The state-owned facility is operated by the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which also operates the M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. The MSA is the largest employer of day laborers in the city, with 150 to 200 workers cleaning up after each game.
The United Workers Association (UWA) has been demanding a living wage for workers who clean up after baseball and football games. UWA, a human rights group founded by homeless day laborers in Baltimore, contends that the state exploits the contract workers, many of whom are African American, by paying low wages. As a state agency, the MSA is exempt from the city’s living wage of $9.62 per hour.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley expressed support for the living wage for the part-time workers. MSA chief Frederick W. Puddester concurred. The MSA board is scheduled to meet on Thursday, September 6, to discuss rebidding of the cleaning contracts. The new contracts would go into place after the end of the 2007-2008 football season.
“We hope that by postponing the hunger strike, we can provide the MSA [with] the breathing room required to come to a just decision,” said Rose Menustik, a UWA organizer. Menustik added that she hoped the MSA would “come to a just decision and turn actions and intentions into commitments.”
Scores of workers, along with labor organizers and union reps, crowded in the courtyard behind the Federal Hill church, enjoying snacks including muffins, bagels, and fruit. Workers say that they pick up trash and clean the bathrooms at the Orioles and Ravens stadiums during and after each game. They average $7 per hour. Under current metropolitan law, service contracts with the city must pay at least the living wage of $9.62. A loophole, however, allows the MSA to award contracts to cleaning companies who pay much less.
Under the Maryland Living Wage law, which goes into effect on October 1, 2007, state government contractors must pay $11.30 per hour in the Baltimore-Washington metro area, and $8.50 in other parts of the state. This is just one of many metro living wage laws in the U.S. In order to qualify for this rate, workers must work for 13 consecutive weeks over the life of the contract. Because of the many away games, the contract cleaners are often idle for a week or more, which disqualifies them under the law.
MSA Chair Puddester claims that he has been in favor of a living wage for the contract cleaners since the matter was brought to his attention last month. “Can the stadium authority argue that they’re exempt on a technicality? Yes, they could. But I don’t plan to take that approach.”
When the full 7-member board is present at a public meeting on Thursday, Puddester plans to ask the members to specify that bids for the 2008 baseball season and 2008-2009 football season specify that workers be paid a living wage.