Both the federal government and the state of Maryland have been under declared states of emergency since early 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time frame, Maryland’s recorded COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen from the first three cases confirmed in the state on March 5th and the first reported death on March 19th to a total of 109,000-plus cases and 3,700-plus deaths so far as of September 1st.

Both the U.S. and Maryland states of emergency have had practical and legal impacts on many areas of public life, including employment and employment laws.

What employees are asking about

Some of the most widely expressed concerns among Maryland employees during the COVID-19 pandemic have to do with:

  • Time off work or away from usual worksites (either voluntary or otherwise)
  • Potential sources of pay during time off
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Other issues related to furloughs or layoffs
  • Safety in the workplace

Countless businesses have been affected, along with their customers and employees.

What many employees want and need to know

Here are some recommendations, policies and interpretations of Maryland laws that interest many workers whose work routines have been or may be affected by the pandemic:

  • Regarding employers that may reduce their workforces: A recently passed bill (Maryland HB 1018/SB 780) indicates that the existing Maryland Economic Stabilization Act now requires employers with 50 employees or more to give 60 days’ notice before reducing their workforces. There is no exception for health pandemics.
  • Regarding employees whose employers temporarily cease operations because of COVID-19: The Maryland Department of Labor encourages employees in these cases to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Regarding individual quarantines: If there is no option to telework, the department of labor recommends that employees make use of their employers’ paid time off (if applicable) or unpaid time off. They may apply for unemployment insurance benefits if they are not able to work and not being paid.
  • Regarding hazardous workplaces: If a worker quits because of reasonable risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace, they may qualify for unemployment insurance benefits if the circumstances are deemed allowable under Maryland’s provisions covering workers leaving jobs for good cause.

This list is a sampling; many other issues raise questions for employees and employers. Employees in search of answers may consult employers’ human resources (HR) departments, government agencies and employment law attorneys about these and other matters related to employment law and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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