Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Maryland Wage Lien Act - Powerful New Tool for Collecting Unpaid Wages.

The Maryland Wage Lien Act provides a powerful new tool to employees seeking to collect earned wages from employers.

Beginning October 1, 2013, Maryland employees can initiate a lien by providing "written notice" to their employers of unpaid wages.  If employers want to contest the lien, they must file a claim in Court providing a sworn statement setting forth all defenses.  The Court then only as 45 days to decide if the lien is appropriate.  Forty-five days is fast; a typical court case take months, if not years.  I am curious how the Courts will handle this new expedited procedure.

If the Court issues the lien, it can award attorney's fees to the employee.  It can award attorney's fees to the employer if the wage lien is brought in bad faith.  

The Act's definition of "employer" is broad and includes individuals who work in the employer's interest.  Under recent precedent, owners and some supervisors can be individually liable for unpaid wages.  Wages does not include owed commissions.   

A lien is like a judgment that attaches to property.  If the employer wants to sell his or her solely-owned real estate, if a wage lien is attached, the buyer will usually require the employer to satisfy the lien.  The lien also may give the lien holder priority if the employer declares bankruptcy.

The Maryland Department of Labor is tasked with issuing implementing regulations.   I will be keeping my eye out for them as they could have an important affect on  this new powerful wage collecting tool.   

H/t to the  Public Justice Center which pushed for the Act and published an excellent FAQ.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Q: How many wage theft claims were filed with the Maryland Department of Labor in FY 2012?

A: 887

Employee can collect unpaid wages in Maryland using the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law. There are three ways to enforce the Law:

1.  By filing a lawsuit.

2.  By filing an administrative complaint with the Maryland Department of Labor (DLLR).  There were 887 such claims filed in FY 2012.    

3. By filing a criminal complaint for a willful violation (though these claims are almost always left to the civil process).

DLLR will typically direct employees with larger claims to hire private lawyer.  A private lawyer will want to be compensated for his or her efforts; the DLLR serves the public without a fee.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Maryland Unemployment: Using Best Judgment is Not Misconduct

     I recently helped a client who had been denied unemployment benefits at the telephone interview stage.  Her employer claimed that she had committed a series of errors in handling complicated financial transactions.  The telephone examiner found my client had deliberately disregarded employer rules.

    At an in-person before the Heating Officer, we were able to establish that my client used her best judgment in handling the transactions. The employer was free to second-guess my client's judgment.   But that does not mean she should be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  According to the Hearing Officer, "the claimant made reasonable, good faith efforts to process [the transactions] properly."  Thus, the claimant, my client, is entitled to benefits.