One of the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 public health emergency is that it has forced many states into reviewing their existing guidelines around paid leave for employees. However, Maine was already thinking ahead of the curve, with Governor Janet Mills signing a bill guaranteeing paid leave for employees way back in May 2019. Plus, the law requires Maine firms to provide this paid leave for reasons beyond just illness, which we’ll explore in more detail below.
Employers That Must Pay Sick Leave
Most employers in Maine are required to provide paid leave from January 1, 2021. One key exception to this may be if your industry falls under the seasonal bracket. The primary definition for businesses is that any employer with over 10 employees for more than 120 days in a calendar year has to abide by this law. If you’re not sure whether your firm falls under this, speak to the Maine Department of Labor.
Paid leave in Maine is not just sick leave, although sick leave will surely be a large part of the leave taken. See further down this article for reasons employees can be absent from work in Maine.
Amount of Leave Per Employee
Employees accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours they have worked for the company. In a single calendar year, one employee can use 40 hours of paid leave. This is the state requirement, however, if an employer wants to approve more paid leave than this, that’s completely within the law. If a firm already offers a more generous leave package than this, there’s no need for them to make any changes.
Employers who have never had to calculate paid leave before may need additional help with their bookkeeping or accounting. It’s important to get it right to avoid penalties.
Guidelines for Paid Leave
Unlike sick leave, Maine’s paid leave can be used for any reason. Reasons for paid leave might include:
- Vacation, pre-planned or spontaneous
- Illness, mental or physical
- Preventive medical treatment
- Caring for a family member
- A family emergency
- Moving home
- Getting married
Hopefully, the list above shows that the reasons for paid leave are not exhaustive. However, if the reason for paid leave is not an emergency or related to an illness or a sudden necessity, the employer is within their rights to demand 4 weeks’ notice for any leave taken.
If the paid leave is required for an emergency situation, employees need to make their employer aware as soon as possible.
Employer Behavior and Employee Rights
By law, employers must display Maine’s Regulation of Employment information poster prominently on their premises. If you already have a poster, check it’s the current one, as it was revised in October 2020. Maine DoL has helpfully provided the poster in a variety of languages.
When an employer takes on new staff, they can insist that the new employee(s) wait 120 days until taking advantage of any paid leave accrued. All employees of firms with more than 10 staff are eligible for paid leave, including part-time and temporary staff.
Employees who feel that their firm is not following the law can contact the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation. Companies found to be in breach of the law may have to offer back pay or other penalties, so most companies will want to make sure they are functioning within the law to avoid such an outcome.
Employers can use intelligent scheduling systems and good communication with staff to ensure that they do not suddenly end up in a situation where all employees want to take paid leave at the same time. Consider school vacation time, warmer months, and your peak periods of business so you can plan ahead to accommodate the needs of both the business and the employees.
It’s important to note that this paid leave is separate from any public health emergency leave. This Maine law was signed in 2019 before officials had any knowledge of the coming health crisis. It’s a sign of progression in the way Maine companies work with their employees, offering support and gaining loyalty. Paradoxically, employees who know they have access to paid leave are less likely to use it, as they’re less prone to stress and job-related anxiety because they feel they are valued by their employees.
If your staffing or recruitment company needs more advice about the Maine Paid Leave laws which came into effect in January 2021, contact Maine DoL. For more useful resources for your staffing company, follow our blog, or contact Admin Assist to find out if outsourcing your accounting or payroll could save you more than you expect.