During the most recent legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Time to Care Act. The big takeaway from the passage of this law: Maryland will, eventually, have a paid leave program for employees who need time off due to childbirth or serious health conditions. Unfortunately, the coverage of the law’s passage has created confusion among employees and employers as to its effective date, who is responsible for funding the program, and its effective date. Contrary to some misconceptions, the law only establishes a framework for what the program will eventually look like—employees are not entitled to paid leave under the law until January 1, 2025, at the earliest.
The program itself is akin to the unemployment insurance program—employees will apply for benefits through the state, not their employer. The funding for the program will come from contributions from employers (and employees) who employ more than 15 employees in the state. Employers with fewer than 15 employees will still be covered but will not be required to make contributions. Because the state agency still has not set up the program or determined the funds needed to run the program, the law provides that the contribution rates for employers will be set in June of 2023 with contributions beginning in October of 2023. These dates are tentative and dependent upon the passage of implementing regulations.
Once employers start making contributions to the fund, October 2023 to December 31, 2024, will essentially be a funding period, where the program will build the reserves needed to provide benefits to qualifying employees. Again, employees will not be able to begin taking leave under the law until January 1, 2025, at the earliest. When employees take covered leave, they will file for benefits with the state. Once they do so, the employer’s obligation will be to maintain group health benefits in the same manner as they would under any other period of leave, with the employee continuing to pay their individual share. More importantly, unless doing so would create a “substantial and grievous harm” to the company, employers are required to reinstate employees once the period of leave is over. Employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave under the program.
So, What Should Employers Do Now?
For the time being, employers are not required to do anything new. Employers with 50 or more employees should continue to follow the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act when dealing with leave requests from employees. Employers with 15-49 employees should continue to follow the Maryland Parental Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
As we learn more about how the law will be implemented, we will keep you updated. In the meantime, if you have questions about paid or unpaid leave requirements for your business, please contact one of our attorneys at (410) 522-1020 to set up an appointment.