2014 Labor Law Update

Second Regular Session of the 126th Legislature
Summary of DOL-Related Legislation

Amend the Laws Governing Firefighter Absence from Work for Emergency Response (LD 1622  PL 2013, Ch. 477) — The former law prohibited employers from discharging or otherwise disciplining absent employees who are volunteer firefighters and who respond to an emergency in that capacity. However, this protection did not extend to persons who belong to a municipal fire department. This law ensures that the same protections that volunteer firefighters possess are extended to members of municipal fire departments. The Statutory title affected is 26 MRSA § 809. This bill was submitted as emergency legislation and the law became effective on March 16, 2014, the day that Governor LePage signed it.

Enable the Bureau of Labor Standards To Access Federal Reimbursement by Amending State Law To Conform to Federal Law (LD 1643  PL 2013, Ch. 473) — The Bureau of Labor Standards conducts free, confidential safety inspections through the SafetyWorks! program to assist employers with OSHA compliance. The Department learned through OSHA that the bureau could be reimbursed for this work if minor changes were made to Maine statute. These changes, which clarify definitions in existing law regarding "right of access," "general duty clause," "discrimination" and "notice of improper conditions," bring Maine into compliance with federal law and make Maine a "state plan state." Maine now qualifies to receive federal reimbursement of up to $400,000 per year for public sector consultation and enforcement services. This law becomes effective on August 1, 2014. The Statutory titles affected are 26 MRSA § § 43-45, § 561, § 569 and § 570.

Expedite Training Waiver Decisions for Unemployment Claimants by Transferring Original Jurisdiction from the Unemployment Insurance Commission to the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation (LD 1668 PL 2013, Ch. 474) — This law transferred original jurisdiction for making approved-training determinations for unemployment claimants who are pursuing training outside of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program. Original jurisdiction had been with the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission; jurisdiction now rests with the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation. An approved training determination "waives" the requirement that individuals collecting unemployment be able and available to accept work and be actively seeking work during the period they are participating in active training. Having jurisdiction within the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation is consistent with all other states and ensures a more efficient and cost-effective process. Due to the issues created by the previous statute, this bill was submitted as emergency legislation and the law became effective on March 10, 2014, the date that Governor LePage signed it. Statutory titles affected are 26 MRSA § 1192 sub-sections 6 and 6-C.

Make Minor Technical Changes to the Laws Governing the Department of Labor (LD 1677 PL 2013, Ch. 467) — This law, which becomes effective on August 1, 2014, clarifies and/or corrects the following minor inconsistencies:

  • 5 MRSA § 943 and 26 MRSA § 1401-B, sub-§ 1 ¶ B: Corrected the titles of appointed positions in the Department to reflect the actual titles and corrected conflicting language that existed between Title 5 and Title 26 to ensure consistency between them.
  • 26 MRSA § 61, sub-§ 2: Changed an incorrect reference from employer to employee in regards to workers' compensation payments.
  • 26 MRSA § 1083, sub-§ 2: Corrected outdated verbiage from 1996 so that the verbiage in statute is consistent with the current organizational structure and budget. Wagner-Peyser has not been part of the Employment Security Fund since 1996, when the Job Service merged with Employment Training and became the Bureau of Employment Services.
  • 26 MRSA § 1401-A, sub-§ 2: Corrected verbiage to reflect the organizational structure that currently exists in the department. This removed outdated language referring to the Private Industry Council and the Human Resources Development Council. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) replaced these councils, which had been mandated for the Federal Job Training Partnership Act, in 1998. It also removed Division of Administrative Hearings as a separate entity, since this Division had been moved under the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation by 2006, and added the State Workforce Investment Board.
  • 26 MRSA § 2006, sub-sections 5-B and 7: Corrected the titles of two standing committees of the State Workforce Investment Board, and extended a provision that belonged to only one committee to each of the six standing committees, which was the original intent. The provision allows each of the six standing committees to "receive and accept — from any source — allocations, appropriations, loans, grants and contributions of money or other things of value to be held, used or applied to carry out this subsection, subject to the conditions upon which the loans, grants and contributions may be made, including, but not limited to, appropriations, allocations, loans, grants or gifts from a private source, federal agency or governmental subdivision of the State or its agencies."
    • "Standing Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities" is known as the "Commission on Disability and Employment";
    • "Standing Committee on School-to-Work" is known as the "Standing Committee on Younger Workers"

Amend the State of Maine’s Work-sharing Program to Conform with Federal Law (LD 1701 PL 2013, Ch. 448) — Congress changed several provisions to short-time compensation programs (also known as Work-sharing programs) under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. Maine had passed a law enacting its Work-sharing program in 2011, during the 125th Legislature. The majority of Maine’s program complied with the revised federal provisions, but several areas needed modification so that the Department could continue to administer its Work-sharing program without penalty.
Under the new federal and Maine statutes:

  • Work-sharing can apply to both temporary and planned "permanent" layoffs.
  • Employers providing health or retirement benefits for staff members who are not impacted by Work-sharing must continue these benefits under the same terms for those who are participating in the program.
  • When applying for the Work-sharing program, employers must include in their application an estimate of the number of layoffs that might be averted and describe the notification process they will use for affected employees.
  • Work-sharing employees may participate in training, including employer-sponsored training or training funded under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, to enhance their job skills while participating in Work-sharing.

The statutory title affected is 26 MRSA § 1198. This bill was submitted as emergency legislation and the law became effective on February 20, 2014, the day that Governor LePage signed it.

Facilitate Informed Planning for Higher Education and Careers (LD 1746 PL 2013, Ch. 593) — This law intends to provide Maine employers, workers and young people with accurate, outcomes-based information to help plan for higher education and workforce development. Building upon the work and data that has been produced through collaboration between the Departments of Education and Labor, under an existing federal grant, this legislation put mechanisms in place to take the existing data to the next level, providing the means to share the data with students, their families, and the public in a useful and secure way. The data conveys information such as graduates’ earnings and employment status. This data can inform decisions by individual students and families, by sector partnerships as they seek to ensure that the workforce pipeline continues to flow, and by higher education administrators as they look for ways to meet the needs of students and our State. The federal grant is due to run out at the end of 2014, which halts the current data without another funding source. This law places Maine in a positive position to receive another three-year grant to continue the project. The Statutory titles affected are 20-A MRSA § 12901 and § 12902. This law becomes effective on August 1, 2014.

Allocate a Portion of the Reed Act Distribution of 2002 To Use for the Administration of the Unemployment Insurance and Employment Services Programs (LD 1802 PL 2013, Ch. 511) — This law funded the system improvements recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Unemployment Reform without using General Funds or raising employer-paid unemployment taxes. It appropriated a portion of Reed Act funds, which required Legislative action. Currently, approximately $45 million remains in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (comprised of $16,803,000 of the 2002 Reed Act distribution and $28,200,000 of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) distribution of 2009). Both ARRA funds and Reed Act funds may be allocated to cover administrative expenses under the same strict conditions and criteria. The Department anticipates a need for $17.5 million, which would be expended over a period of at least seven years, possibly longer. A portion of the funds will be used for the costs associated with adding permanent positions (rather than limited period positions) to address understaffing in areas of unemployment claims processing, adjudication and appeals. Funds will also be used to deliver employment assistance services through the Department of Labor's CareerCenter system and to provide labor market information program services for Maine workers and employers. The Department only will withdraw Reed Act funds as needed, and the unexpended balance of $27.5 million in unappropriated Reed Act funds will remain in the Unemployment Trust Fund to pay unemployment benefits or for future administrative purposes. This bill was submitted as emergency legislation and the law was effective on April 3, 2014, the date that Governor LePage signed it. The Statutory titles affected are 26 MRSA § 1162, and Sections 903(d) and 903(f) of the federal Social Security Act.

Increase Employment Opportunities for Veterans (LD 1832 PL 2013, Ch. 576) — Forty states, including Maine, give veterans hiring preference in State government employment. This law extends the opportunity for private employers to adopt a veterans’ preference in their hiring practices. This is a voluntary preference; no private employer is forced to adopt the preference. However, employers that choose to do so could extend preference to veterans over other applicants (or employees) in hiring, promotion and/or retention during a reduction in the workforce. In order to extend a veteran’s preference, employers must have a written policy that they apply uniformly to these types of employment decisions. The law defines "Veteran" as a person who has served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces, in the national guard of any state or the Reserves of the United States Armed Forces, and was discharged or released with an honorable discharge. A private employer may require that a veteran submit a DD Form 214 to be eligible for the preference. The Statutory titles affected are 5 MRSA § 4573 sub-§ 7 and 26 MRSA § § 876-878. This law becomes effective on August 1, 2014.

Compensation for the Panel of Mediators (LD 1854 PL 1854, Ch. 553 — This law increased the payment for mediation services provided by the members of the Panel of Mediators from $100 to $300 for a four-hour period. The pool of mediators was dwindling, in large part because compensation had not increased since 1997. The higher rate should help recruit and maintain a wider pool of active mediators. The Statutory title affected is 26 MRSA § 965 sub-§ 2, ¶ C. This law becomes effective on August 1, 2014.