Friday, November 06, 2015

Maryland False Claims Act of 2015: State Law Protection for Whistleblowers

The Maryland False Claims Act took effect June 1, 2015.  The main provisions of the Act: 
  1. Prohibit a person from knowingly making a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval by the government; 
  2. Permit a private citizen to file a civil action on behalf of the government against a person who has made a false claim; 
  3. Require the court to award a certain percentage of the proceeds of the action to the private citizen initiating the action; and 
  4. Prohibit retaliatory actions by a person against an employee, contractor, or grantee for disclosing a false claim or engaging in other false claims-related activities.

For employees and contractors, the Act provides two avenues to pursue relief.  

"Qui-Tam Claims."  An employee who discovers a false claim can pursue a civil action on behalf of a governmental entity.   Such a civil action must be filed under seal and remain under seal for 60 to allow the governmental to review it.  The case only goes forward if the government chooses to pursue the claim.  If the governmental wins, the court must award the private party not less than 15% and not more than 25% of the proceeds, and in certain circumstances not more than 10% of the proceeds, proportional to the amount of time and effort that the party contributed to the final resolution of the action. 

"Retaliation Claims."  Employees and contractors who investigate, initiate, testify in, or assist a lawful action against a fraud are protected if they disclose a fraud to a supervisor or the government. They are also protected when they refuse to engage in a fraud against the state.    Victims of retaliation may sue to seek an injunction to stop the retaliation. They also may get double their back pay and punitive damages. The law provides a statute of limitations of at least three years.

Employee/whistle-blowers considering pursuing either avenue to relief should consult counsel since this can a difficult area to navigate.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Minimum Wage Increases in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties effective October 1, 2015.

Effective October 1, 2015, the minimum wage in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties went up to $9.55 per hour. For the other counties in Maryland, the minimum wage is $8.25. Here is the Maryland Department of Labor's minimum wage site. Here is the Maryland Department of Labor's minimum wage site.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Chart Summarizing Maryland's Leave Laws

I have been doing some thinking about Maryland's Leave Laws. I put together a very simplistic summary to keep the laws straight in my mind. I pasted it below and hope that it helps!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Maryland Parental Leave Act

 The Maryland Parental Leave Act requires requires employers with 15 to 49 employees to provide employees with unpaid parental leave.

An eligible employee may take up to a total of six weeks of parental leave in a 12-month period for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child.

During parental leave, the employer must maintain existing coverage for a group health plan

To be eligible for parental leave, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year and for 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months.  An eligible employee is generally required to provide the employer with 30-day prior notice of parental leave.

If the employer provides paid leave to employees, the employer may require that the employee substitute the paid leave for any part of or all of the period of parental leave.

The Act provides a private cause of action for damages caused by an employer’s noncompliance. If a court determines that an employee is entitled to judgment in an action, the court must award reasonable attorney’s fees and other costs of the action to the employee.

Montgomery County Employers Will Be Required to Provide Paid Sick Leave Beginning October 1, 2016

    Montgomery County is one of the few jurisdictions that require all employers provide paid sick leave.  That is the law under the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act passed by the Montgomery County Council.

    All employees will be entitled to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked. Employers with five or more employees must provide up to 56 hours per year of paid sick leave to employees. Employers with less than five employees are required to provide up to 32 hours of paid sick leave and twenty-four hours of unpaid sick and safe leave per year.

 The permissible uses of sick leave are broad.  They include:

  • Treating the employee’s own illness; 
  • Attending preventative medical appointments; and
  • Caring for a covered individual with an illness.
The Act contains and anti-retaliation provision and a complaint procedure.   As noted, the Act becomes effective October 1, 2016.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maryland's Highest Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Two Employment Law Cases in November 2014

The Maryland Court of Appeals (our highest Court) will hear oral argument in two employment law cases in November 2014.

In Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 v. Lovelace, the Court is reviewing whether a disgruntled union officer's court claims against his union are barred because he has a remedy through an internal procedure.  The Court of Special Appeals ruled that because the internal procedure did not allow the union officer to collect damages, the procedure were "inadequate" and no bar to a court proceeding.

In Cunningham v. Matthew Feinberg, the Court is reviewing whether the doctrine of lex loci contractus precludes a claim under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law.  The doctrine means that when deciding a question of interpretation and validity of a contract provisions, the Maryland courts ordinarily should apply the law of the jurisdiction where the contract was made.  The Court of Special Appeals decision is unpublished and I have not read it yet.  I am guessing that the case involves an employer's claim that it reached a deal with an employee in some state other than Maryland, and, therefore, the other state's law applies to the employee's wage claim.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Maryland Department of Labor Publishes Regulations Implementing Wage Lien Act

The Maryland Department of Labor (DLLR) recently published regulations implementing the Wage Lien Act.  The regs track the language of the statute, but to a good job explaining how to file a wage lien.

  1. An employee starts the process by serving on the employer a "Notice of Claim for Unpaid Wages."    The regulation specifies eight pieces of information that must be on the Notice, including: (a) The basis for the claim that wages were due but were not paid; (b) the monetary amount of the lien sought; (c) the real or personal property, or both, against which the lien is sought along with a description adequate to identify the property, name of owner, and location; and (d) notice to the employer of their right to dispute the lien by filing a complaint within 30 days of receipt of the notice.  Service can be accomplished by certified mail requesting, “Restricted Delivery—Show to whom, date, and address of delivery.”                                                                                                                                                              
  2. If the employer disagrees with the Notice, the employer can file suit.   The suit must contain  an explanation of why the wages claimed by the employee are not due and owing by the employer.                                                                                                                                           
  3. If the Lien is either not disputed or established in Court, the employee can then file a "Wage Lien Statement."   The Statement must include: A description of the property; the name of the property owner; the monetary amount of the lien; A copy of the Notice for Unpaid Wages; and a copy of the Order establishing the lien for unpaid wages if the lien for unpaid wages is established in a court.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Maryland's Highest Court Rules That Triple Damages are Recoverable for Unpaid Overtime

I have long tracked the debate over whether triple damages are recoverable for overtime under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law.   Maryland's highest Court, the Court of Appeals, put the issue to bed in Muriel Peters v. Early Healthcare Giver, Inc.  The Court ruled (as predicted) that triple damages are recoverable for unpaid overtime.   The Court ruled that way because in 2010 the Maryland General Assembly amended the law to add the word "overtime" to the definition of wages. Several Federal Court decisions, nonetheless, held that triple damages were not recoverable if they were never promised to the employee.  The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected those cases and held triple damages are available for unpaid overtime.

The Court in Peters also held:

  • A judge or jury must first find that the employer withheld the employee's wages in bad faith before awarding additional -- up to triple -- damages to the employee; 
  • There is no outright presumption in favor of an award of enhanced damages; 
  • The employer has the initial burden to prove it withheld wages in good faith.  The burden then shifts to the employee who must ultimately persuade the judge or jury that the employer withheld the wages in bad faith; and
  • The maximum award the plaintiff can receive is three times the unpaid wages.  If the employee is owed $1 in wages, the maximum he or she can recover is $3 (there had been an argument that he or she should be able to recover $4 -- the owed wages plus triple damages).