Wave of the Future? Maine Passes Mandatory Unrestricted Paid Leave Law

In what may spark a new trend in paid leave benefits, both legislative houses in the State of Maine have now passed a bill requiring most private employers to offer up to 40 hours of paid leave for employees to use for any purpose they wish.

This makes the bill much more expansive than the paid sick leave, family leave and/or parenting leave laws that other states have adopted.

What is Required

Although originally intended as just a paid sick leave bill, the legislation morphed into a more general paid leave obligation with the blessings of many members of the business community. Employers with ten or more employees therefore would be required to provide up to 40 hours of unrestricted paid leave to their would workers to be accrued at the rate of one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.  The bill excludes seasonal employees and those covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The new law would cover approximately 85% of Maine employers.  While many such employers already offer the sort of paid leave benefits required by the bill, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 employees will benefit by receiving more paid leave than they receive currently.

Notice Obligations

Interestingly, the new bill would require only “reasonable notice” of the intent to use the new paid leave benefit.  This is a much more lenient standard for employees than the typical requirements that employees comply with a specified notice requirement for foreseeable leaves, and “as much notice as is practicable” in emergencies.  Even so, the Maine legislation does require that leave in non-emergency situations must be scheduled to avoid undue hardship for the employer.

Governor Janet Mills has already indicated support for the bill and is expected to sign it when it arrives at her desk.  This would then allow the bill to take effect on January 1, 2021.

Bottom Line

Maine’s legislature leans heavily Democratic and there was talk that if some sort of paid leave bill was not passed this session, the issue would be brought before the voters by referendum.  Thus, the Republican minority worked hard to find a compromise they could accept.

The bill’s support from a large faction of the business community was interesting.  Perhaps they too were concerned about what the voters might choose to do.  It has been reported that many employers just favored the simplicity and clarity of a general leave bill while others who already offer vacation but not sick leave may have seen a general leave bill as a way to avoid having to increase their leave offerings to employees.

Maine is the first state to mandate general leave benefits for employees.  It would not be surprising to see other states with Democratic majorities begin to pursue similar initiatives.