Q & A with a Maryland Employment Law Firm
Employment law is a vast subject that covers a wide variety of topics. Every issue from discrimination, retaliation, medical leave and many others come under the umbrella of employment law. However, there are certain employment law questions that we receive more often than others. Below are some brief responses to some of the most common employment law questions we are asked. If you have questions or concerns about an employment law-related issue, we suggest that you contact a Maryland employment lawyer at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford to discuss the specifics of your situation.
What types of personal questions can a potential employer ask during an interview and how do I know if they crossed the line?
Questions in job interviews should generally focus on the applicant’s skills and qualifications for the job rather than his or her personal life. Certain personal questions (such as “What do you like to do for fun?” or “Are you more of a dog or cat person?”) are allowable, but questions delving into the candidate’s age, race or ethnicity, gender, marital status, disability or religion can expose the interviewer to discrimination lawsuits.
Can I take legal action if I was discriminated against or harassed during an interview?
Yes. Federal law prohibits most employers from discriminating against potential hires at any point during the interview process. If you can prove that you were not hired due to your race, age, sex, or any other protected characteristic, you may take legal action.
Was I wrongfully terminated?
Because many individuals are employed at-will (i.e., can be fired for any reason or no reason), it’s often difficult to determine whether a termination is “wrongful.” However, there are a few red flags that indicate that an employee’s termination may have been wrongful, including termination based on:
- Sex or gender
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual harassment, or
- Whistleblowing activity
Does my employer have to pay me severance if I am laid off?
Generally speaking, severance pay is discretionary and employers are not required to provide terminated or laid-off employees with severance pay. However, the employer may be required to provide severance pay if (1) a state law mandates it in a particular situation, or (2) the employee’s contract provides for a severance package.
How can I tell if I have a valid workplace discrimination claim?
If you believe that you are being discriminated against in the workplace, it is important that you document instances of discriminatory behavior and report them using your company’s internal reporting procedures. This is the best way to ensure that you leave a paper trail that can be used in subsequent litigation. Additionally, if you have specific questions and concerns that you believe require legal assistance, do not hesitate to contact a Maryland employment lawyer.
What is the minimum wage in Maryland?
As of November 2018, Maryland’s minimum wage is $10.10 per hour and $3.63 per hour for tipped employees.
Can my employer pay me in cash/pre-paid cards?
While it is not illegal for employers to pay their employees in cash, the employer and employee must nonetheless report and pay taxes on the income to the IRS.
What are Maryland's laws regarding breaks and meal periods during the workday?
For workers over the age of 18, Maryland does not require employers to provide breaks or meal time to their employees. For workers under the age of 18, the employee must receive a 30-minute break for every five hours of work.
Are all employees in Maryland allowed vacation or sick days?
The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide paid sick leave for most employees, while employers with fewer than 15 employees must provide unpaid sick leave. An employee accrues sick leave at a rate of at least one hour for every 30 hours worked; however, an employee may not earn more than 40 hours of sick leave in a year or more than 64 hours of sick leave at any time. Maryland law does not require employers to provide vacation time.
Can I be denied a request for personal, family, or medical leave?
Yes. Maryland law does not require employers to provide personal or family leave. And although the state does require employers to provide sick leave, it also authorizes employers to establish notice requirements for taking sick leave and expressly permits them to deny leave in certain circumstances.
Am I required to work overtime?
Yes, if your employer requests it. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not prohibit employers from requiring their employees to work overtime. However, Maryland law prohibits employers from requiring Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) to work overtime in most circumstances.
Am I entitled to overtime pay?
Yes. Non-exempt employees who work overtime are entitled to one and one-half (1.5) times their regular hourly wage for work that is performed in excess of 40 hours in a seven-day week. Leave time, including vacation, sick leave, family leave, etc., does not count toward the 40-hour weekly accumulation for overtime purposes. If you believe you have not been compensated appropriately for overtime worked, call our office to speak with a Maryland employment lawyer today.
Can my employer change my employment status (ex. from exempt to non-exempt)?
Yes, as long as you meet the requirements for each classification. Non-exempt employees are paid hourly and are required to be paid overtime in certain circumstances. Exempt employees, by contrast, are paid a salary and are not subject to overtime payment requirements. If your employer changes your employment status from exempt to non-exempt (or vice versa), your payment arrangements should also change to match your new classification.
Can my employer reduce my pay or hours?
Yes. Unless your position is covered by an employment contract that states that you will work a certain number of hours and receive a certain amount of pay, your employer may lower your pay or hours at any time, so long as the employer gives you one full period of advanced notice.
How should I handle a sexual advance from a co-worker?
Sexual advances in the workplace are inappropriate and can be extremely uncomfortable and distressing for the victim of the advances. If you feel that a coworker is making a sexual advance toward you, there are a few steps you can take, including:
- Asking the individual to stop
- Speaking to your manager
- Speaking to your Human Resources department
If these methods fail, you also have the option to file an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or bring a civil suit against the employer.
What kind of evidence do I need to bring my Maryland employment attorney if I want to bring a discrimination or harassment case?
Discrimination and harassment claims are often tricky because they can be difficult to prove in the absence of a direct admission from the employer that it discriminated against an employee. However, a plaintiff can also prove discrimination and harassment with circumstantial evidence, such as:
- Observations of different treatment of the plaintiff from other employees
- Rude, derogatory, or sexual comments made by supervisors
- A history of previous discriminatory or sexual complaints against the employer
- Jobs or promotions being awarded to individuals with lesser qualifications but different characteristics (i.e., race, sex, etc.) than the plaintiff
What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?
The Whistleblower Protection Act is a federal statute that protects federal employees from retaliation (i.e., firing, reducing pay, making the employee’s job unpleasant, etc.) when they report wrongdoing by their employers. This wrongdoing can include a wide range of behaviors, including violating laws, mismanaging funds, abuse of authority, and creating a danger to public health and safety. The state of Maryland also enforces a number of state-level whistleblowing statutes.
Can my boss use my social media profile against me?
Generally, yes. So long as the employer is not violating federal anti-discrimination laws (i.e., disciplining an employee based on social media posts related to their race, age, sex, etc.) or punishing the employee for discussing company polices on social media, an employer may discipline an employee for inappropriate social media posts.
Can my employment be terminated for conduct that takes place outside of work?
Yes. While employers may not terminate employees for discriminatory reasons, they may terminate employees for engaging in criminal activity or conduct otherwise unbecoming of an employee that occurs outside of work. This is especially true in cases of at-will employment or cases in which the employee’s contract contains a morality clause.
Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?
In order to receive unemployment benefits in Maryland, you must:
- Be able to work
- Be actively searching for a new job
- Have lost your job through no fault of your own
- Have worked in the State of Maryland for a certain amount of time (known as a “base period”)
- Have earned at least $1,176 in the quarter prior to losing your job
- Have earned at least 1.5 times the earnings of your highest-paid quarter over the entire base period
What is the statute of limitations for bringing an employment lawsuit in Maryland?
If you believe that you have been discriminated in the workplace, you generally have six months to file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. Please note, however, that depending on the claim the time to file may be shorter or longer than six months. That is why it is absolutely imperative that you contact a Maryland employment attorney as soon as possible.
Why hire a Maryland employment law firm?
Employment law is complex and can be confusing to the average person, especially since employment lawsuits often proceed based on an interaction of federal and state claims. An employment lawyer will be able to assist you in identifying possible employment law issues, gathering evidence, building a case, and navigating it through the court system.
What out-of-pocket costs or fees should I expect if I work with an attorney?
As with all legal questions, the answer is “it depends,” not only on the complexity of your case, but also on the individual attorney’s fee structure for a particular matter. In some cases, attorneys charge a flat fee for performing a certain task. In others, they charge hourly. In still others, they charge on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you do not pay unless they win your case. Whenever you hire a employment law firm, make sure that you understand your fee agreement from the outset of the representation.