HB 581 mandates significant cost increases for local governments and small businesses during emergencies
What the bill does
Bill Summary: Broadly, the bill establishes the following responsibilities and obligations for each employer of an essential worker:
provide an essential worker who earns less than $100,000 per year with hazard pay (of $3.00 per hour) for each pay period the essential worker works during an emergency;
provide safe working conditions during an emergency and provide necessary amounts of PPE at no cost to essential workers;
take proactive steps to minimize the risk of transmission if a worker contracts an infectious disease, as specified;
provide an essential worker with at least 3 days of paid bereavement leave and at least 14 days of paid health leave for use during an emergency, as specified; and
prepare, annually review, and display a health emergency preparedness plan – which must also be submitted to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and other emergency management officials.
How the bill is enforced
The bill also establishes enforcement authority and procedures for MDL, including the authority to
(1) issue an order compelling compliance;
(2) impose a civil penalty of no more than $1,000 for any violation of the bill’s requirements; and
(3) grant compensatory damages and other specified forms of relief.
For each violation, the relief authorized must be imposed on a per-essential worker and per-instance basis. A person that alleges a violation may file a complaint for up to two years after that person knew or should have known about the alleged violation.
Who the bill applies to
The bill applies to essential employers in the following industries and sectors:
(1) the chemical sector;
(2) the commercial sector (e.g., arborists, construction companies, and janitorial firms);
(3) the communications sector;
(4) the critical manufacturing sector;
(5) the emergency services sector;
(6) the energy sector;
(7) the food and agriculture sector (e.g., grocery stores and farms);
(8) the government facilities sector;
(9) the health care and public health sector;
(10) the information technology sector;
(11) the motor carrier industry;
(12) the service sector;
(13) the transportation systems sector;
(14) the warehousing and distribution sector; and
(15) personnel of any other institution or industry ordered to remain open during the emergency.
The industries and sectors listed are substantively similar to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (better known as CISA) critical infrastructure sectors.
What the bill will cost
Costs for Essential Employers
All employers of essential workers, including the State, local governments, and small businesses, must provide additional benefits to those workers during an emergency and meet the bill’s other requirements. Thus, all essential employers experience significant increased costs during an emergency, including during the current and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Small businesses have greater difficulty in meeting the duty to remain open and absorbing the costs involved to do so.
Each requirement in the bill has costs attached. For example, providing Hazard Pay for essential employers increase significantly to provide hazard pay (of $3.00 per hour) for essential workers during an emergency. For the purposes of illustrating the scope of the cost to different segments of the economy:
affected State agencies would pay an additional $26.1 million every three months (averaging $104.2 million per year) to essential workers in SPMS;
MDOT would pay an additional $10.2 million every three months (averaging $40.9 million per year) to its essential workers; and
grocery stores would pay an additional $87.2 million every three months (averaging $348.8 million per year) to essential workers.
Nevertheless, costs to essential employers could be significantly higher than those illustrated above, since essential workers are often required to work additional overtime hours during emergencies to ensure the safety and well-being of Marylanders.