New laws affecting Maine employers become effective on October 15, 2015

Several new laws of interest to Maine employers went into effect on October 15, 2015. These laws increase penalties for employers who do not provide leave to employees who have been the victim of violence, limit an employer’s ability to access private social media information, provide increased access to wage information to creditors of certain employees, amend the reporting process for workplace injuries or death, and expand options for unemployment tax rates when an existing business is purchased by a new or existing employer.

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 (P.L. 2015 CH. 343). Under existing law, employers must grant reasonable and necessary leave from work, with or without pay, for an employee to (1) prepare for and attend court proceedings, (2) receive medical treatment and or attend medical treatment for a victim who is the employee’s daughter, son, parent, or spouse, or (3) obtain services to remedy a crisis caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Previously, failure to comply with the law subjected an employer to a civil penalty of up to $200 for each violation, so long as the violation was reported within 6 months. Under the new law, the penalty has been increased to a fine of up to $1,000.  Additionally, an employee who is discharged in connection with exercising the right to take leave may elect to receive (1) liquidated damages in an amount of three times the total assessed fines, or (2) reemployment with the employer and back wages.

Another aspect of this law limits an employer’s ability to access private social media accounts or e-mail accounts of its employees or applicants. An employer may not “discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize or threaten to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize” an employee for his or her refusal to provide private social media information, or refusal to permit the employer access to a social media account.  The penalty is a $100 fine for the first violation, a $250 fine for a second violation, and a fine of not less than $500 for each subsequent violation.  The law does not apply to publicly available information.  Nor does the law prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to disclose personal social media account information that the employer reasonably believes to be relevant to an investigation of employee misconduct or a workplace related violation of law, so long as disclosure is not otherwise prohibited by law and used solely to the extent necessary for purposes of the investigation.

An Act to Improve Disclosure Procedures (P.L. 2015 Ch. 275). This law allows a creditor to obtain information about a debtor’s wages through the Department of Labor. If a creditor shows that a debtor-employee failed to make two or more payments required by an installment payment order, the court must issue an order requiring the Department of Labor to provide the creditor with the name and address of the debtor’s employer, along with the last reported wage information.

An Act to Update Maine Law to Conform to New Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration Regulations (P.L. 2015 Ch. 138).  This law updates the process for reporting a death of or serious physical injury to a person in the workplace to the Bureau of Labor Standards. Previously, the report needed to be made in writing or by telephone. Under the new law, the report must be made by telephone or electronically.

An Act to Modify Unemployment Insurance Successor Law (P.L. 2015 Ch. 107). When a newly established employer purchases an existing business, and there is no common ownership, management, or control with the new owner and its predecessor, the newly established employer may opt to either retain the predecessor’s unemployment contribution rate, or be assigned the average contribution rate. If the new owner is an established business, the new owner may opt to either retain its own existing rate, or adopt a blended rate between its own rate and that of the predecessor.

For more information, or to discuss how these laws may impact you, please contact one of the attorneys in the Labor & Employment Law practice group at Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion.  We represent clients and provide advice on all types of employment issues including privacy and information security issues, discrimination matters, retaliation and whistleblower complaints, wage and hour claims, noncompetition disputes, military leave issues, family medical leave issues, separation packages, safety and health violations, and wrongful termination claims.