Maryland has enacted legislation (House Bill 581) requiring "essential employers" to take certain steps during a public health emergency, including providing paid leave to essential employees if public funding becomes available. House Bill 581 is effective immediately.
Covered Employers and Workers:
House Bill 581 applies only to employers that are identified by the governor or a state or federal agency as critical to remain in operation during an emergency. To be covered by the law, the worker must be considered an essential employee. This means an individual who performs work during the emergency that must be completed at the worksite and whom the employer deems essential to its operations.
Covered employers must:
- Provide working conditions that comply with applicable safety standards.
- Furnish personal protective equipment at no cost to essential workers.
- Adopt, maintain, and post written protocols to ensure essential workers have access to information on the applicable safety standards in effect during the emergency.
If any worker has contracted COVID-19, the covered employer must take the following actions:
- Inform essential workers that they may have been exposed;
- Cover the cost of COVID-19 testing to essential workers if they're unable to obtain testing free of charge; and
- Report all positive tests to the Maryland Department of Health.
Right to Refuse Work:
Under certain conditions, an essential worker has a right to refuse to perform an assigned task and is protected from discharge or other discrimination by the employer if they refuse a task. This protection applies in the following situations:
- An employee is confronted with a choice between not performing an assigned task or being subjected to serious injury or death arising from a hazardous condition at the workplace, has no reasonable alternative, and refuses in good faith to be exposed to the dangerous condition; and
- The condition causing the employee's apprehension is of such a nature that a reasonable individual would conclude that there's a real danger of death or serious injury, there is insufficient time to rectify the situation, and the employee, if possible, has sought correction of the dangerous conditions from the employer and has been unable to obtain a correction.
If the federal or state government provides funding that can be used for public health emergency leave, then each essential employer must provide an essential worker with public health emergency leave on the date the funding is made available. This leave is in addition to any other leave, including leave required by the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (MHWFA). If specified in a federal program, order, law, or regulation, the amount of leave provided must equal what's outlined within that particular requirement. Otherwise, a full-time essential worker who regularly works 40 hours or more per week must be provided with 112 hours of leave.
If/when the requirement takes effect, essential employees may use the leave for the following purposes:
- To isolate when the employee has been diagnosed with the disease or is experiencing symptoms and awaiting a diagnosis;
- To seek or obtain a medical diagnosis, preventive care, or treatment because the essential worker is diagnosed with COVID-19;
- To care for a family member who is isolating because of a COVID-19 diagnosis;
- Due to a determination by a public health official or healthcare professional that the essential worker's presence would jeopardize the health of other individuals because of the essential worker's exposure to, or exhibited symptoms associated with, COVID-19;
- To care for a family member due to a determination by a public health official or healthcare professional that the family member's presence would jeopardize the health of others because of the family member's exposure to, or exhibited symptoms associated with, COVID-19; or
- To care for a child or other family member when the care provider or school or place of care is unavailable due to the emergency.
House Bill 581 requires the state to either:
- Adopt the Emergency Temporary Standard related to COVID-19 issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); or
- If OSHA hasn't issued a standard, adopt a State Emergency Temporary Standard that meets specified requirements.
Note: On June 10, 2021, OSHA announced an Emergency Temporary Standard that applies to healthcare workers. Since “essential workers” under state law may also include workers in other sectors, it appears the state may also have to adopt its own State Emergency Temporary Standard.
Emergency Preparedness Plan Template:
By August 1, 2021, the Maryland Department of Health must develop a template health emergency preparedness plan for responding to health emergencies.
Essential employers should review the law in full and ensure compliance. They may also need to coordinate compliance with OSHA's recently issued Emergency Temporary Standard. Please contact your dedicated service professional with any questions.