October 15, 2015
For Immediate Release: October 15, 2015
Media Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, 621-5009
Changes to domestic violence leave, new social media labor law, and new options for purchasing businesses
AUGUSTA—Most bills passed by the Maine legislature in 2015 become law effective Oct. 15, 2015. Of note are two labor laws carrying potential fines for employers, as well as laws updating safety and health requirements for public sector employers, a new option for unemployment tax rates when purchasing an existing business, and expanded access via court orders to wage information of debtors.
“Maine businesses and employees should be aware of several new laws that affect them,” said Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “Learning about the law now will ensure better compliance down the road.”
Employers or workers with questions about these or other employment laws can start with the department's Frequently Asked Questions page ( http://www.maine.gov/labor/faqs.html ) on the website or call the department's customer service line at 623-7900.
Two distinct changes to Wage and Hour laws are combined in An Act To Strengthen the Right of a Victim of Sexual Assault or Domestic Violence To Take Necessary Leave from Employment and To Promote Employee Social Media Privacy (LD 921, PL 2015 Ch. 343). In the first section of this law, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking (or the child, spouse, or parent of such individuals) may take reasonable and necessary leave from employment excepting certain conditions. If leave is denied and reported to the Department of Labor within six months of the occurrence and the employer is found to have denied the leave not in accordance with the law, a fine payable to the state of up to $1,000 for each violation may be assessed against the employer. In addition, the employer is liable for liquidated damages in an amount equal to three times the amount of total assessed fines (equating to $3,000 per violation) provided to the employee. If the employee is terminated, the employee may elect either the liquidated damages or reemployment with the employer with back wages.
In the second part of this law, employers in Maine are now restricted in their ability to access the personal social media or email accounts (non-public information) of employees and applicants. Employers may not terminate, discipline or otherwise take adverse action against an employee or applicant, due to the employee’s or applicant’s refusal to cooperate with any prohibited request or demand. Some exceptions apply, including when disclosure of personal social media account information is reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of alleged employee misconduct or a workplace-related violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations. The law provides that fines will be not less than $100 for the first violation, not less than $250 for the second violation and not less than $500 for each subsequent violation. The statutory title affected is 26 MRSA §§ 850 and 615–619.
An optional labor law poster for each of these statutes is available at no charge for downloading or printing at http://www.maine.gov/labor/posters/index.html .
Individuals interested in purchasing an existing business should review An Act To Modify Unemployment Insurance Successor Law (LD 701, PL 2015 Ch. 107), which changes the treatment of unemployment contribution (tax) rate assignment in successor transactions. In cases when the successor is a newly established employer, and when no substantial common ownership, management or control exists between the purchaser and the predecessor, the successor may opt to retain the predecessor’s rate or be assigned the average contribution rate, whichever is lower. In such cases when the successor is an established employer with an existing contribution experience rate, the successor may choose to retain this rate or inherit the experience rate of the purchased business blended with the successor’s existing rate to form a new experience rate, whichever is more favorable. The statutory title affected is 26 MRSA §1221.
Individuals who have been ordered by a court to repay a debt should be aware of An Act To Improve Disclosure Procedures (LD 451, PL 2015 Ch. 275), which allows the judgment creditor to obtain Department of Labor wage information when the judgment debtor has not conformed to the requirements of an installment payment order. It also clarifies that the amendments made by Public Law 2013, chapter 150 apply to small claims court disclosure proceedings. The statutory title affected is 14 MRSA §3126-A, §3134, and §3135.
Public-sector employers should note changes to workplace health and safety recordkeeping and reporting in An Act To Update Maine Law To Conform to New Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration Regulations (LD 699, PL 2015 Ch. 138). Under the prior law, a person in charge of a workplace is required to report in writing or by telephone to the director of the Bureau of Labor Standards the death of any person in the workplace or a serious physical injury requiring hospitalization sustained by a person in the workplace. This bill replaced the requirement to report in writing or by telephone with a requirement to report by telephone or electronically and provides that the report may be made to the director or the director's designee. It amends the definition of "serious physical injury." It also authorizes the director and any authorized agent of the bureau to enter a public sector workplace for the purpose of examining the safety and health of employees. The statutory title affected is 26 MRSA §2 and §44.
A portion of the state training tax will now be used to provide scholarships for students enrolled in the Bridge Year through An Act To Amend the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program To Allow for Participation in Early College and Career and Technical Education Programs (LD 856, PL 2015 Ch. 257). This law expands the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program to include participants who are under 18 years of age if they are full-time secondary students at a public secondary school and enrolled in a career and technical education program at a career and technical education center or a career and technical education region, called the “Bridge Year.” The students must meet the following requirements: they do not have a marketable postsecondary degree, they have income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and they are applying for education or training for a job in an approved industry. The statutory title affected is 26 MRSA §2033. The department has posted proposed rules changes ( http://www.maine.gov/labor/news_events/article.shtml?id=659478 ) to update the rules in compliance with the new statute.
Employers who have questions about constitutional carry and their rights to regulate weapon possession on their property can look to existing state statute. Title 26 MRSA § 600 states that, “An employer or an agent of an employer may not prohibit an employee who has a valid permit to carry a concealed firearm under Title 25, chapter 252 from keeping a firearm in the employee's vehicle as long as the vehicle is locked and the firearm is not visible.” This provision was not affected by the changes to the concealed weapons permitting law passed in 2015.
A list of the recent changes that fall under whole or partial jurisdiction of the Maine Department of Labor is available at http://www.maine.gov/labor/labor_laws/index.html .