FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are the sources of my rights as an employee?
The rights of employees working in Maryland are protected by
federal, state and local statutes, as well as by common law actions for breach of contract, and intentional and negligent
unlawful acts. Most of the federal, state, and local statutes are
enforced primarily by specific agencies. Common law claims must be
entered through the state courts, which enforce such claims. However, Maryland is an at will state, which means that employers can terminate an employee for any reason that does not violate a statute or public policy.
What does the law provide regarding discrimination and sexual harassment?
Various laws provide that employees may not be treated differently because of their sex, race,
religion, national origin, physical or mental handicap or age. For
example, when two employees are equal in job performance, an
employer can not give one a better raise because of the employee’s
sex or race. It is not only unlawful to discriminate in hiring and
firing decisions, but also in regard to promotions, pay rates, job
assignments, overtime, layoff and recall or any other term or
condition of employment. Under the Federal ERISA law, when facing a layoff, an employer may not
select "older" employees for layoff to avoid having to pay him or her a
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits
discriminating against individuals with physical or mental
disabilities. The Act requires employers in certain circumstances to
make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals so these
individuals may be able to perform the essential functions of a job.
employees are strictly prohibited from sexually harassing other
employees, whether the harassment results in tangible job harm such
as a firing or demotion or other reprisal for refusing sexual
advances, or intangible job harm stemming from severe and pervasive
harassment. Creating a hostile work environment of a pervasive
nature that is abusive to employees based on their gender also
constitutes sexual harassment. Allowing employees to
intimidate and harass other employees through lewd remarks,
inappropriate touching or offensive jokes may be illegal harassment. Employers are required to
have a complaint procedure in place and take prompt and reasonable
efforts to remedy discrimination once it is known.
Which are the government agencies that can help me enforce my rights?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Maryland
Commission on Human Relations are the federal and state agencies
designated to enforce these laws. An employee who has been the
subject of discrimination may file a charge against his or her
employer with these agencies.
A charge alleging
discrimination generally must be filed with the appropriate agency
within 180 days from the date of discriminatory act in order to be
What are my rights with respect to unsafe working conditions?
Both federal and state laws exist that protect workers from
unsafe working environments. Health and safety regulations set forth
standards that employers must follow to protect workers from
exposure to chemicals and other toxic substances; unsafe noise
levels; unsafe work practices; and unsafe heat, cold or ventilation
conditions. The regulations may require protective clothing for
certain types of work and may also require employers to provide
certain medical tests (e.g. hearing tests) at company expense.
Complaints for violations of these laws may be filed with Maryland
Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH).
What are my rights with respect to wages?
Federal law requires that employees in most industries be paid a
minimum wage and overtime (one and half times the employee’s regular
rate of pay) for hours worked over 40 per week. There are certain
exceptions to the overtime requirements for supervisory and
professional personnel, as well as for particular jobs such as
salespeople who use telecommunications, and other remote services
technology, such as fax, modems, e-mail, and the Internet, to
perform their jobs; some computer professionals such as Systems
Analysts or Programmers; and some industries such as agricultural
enterprises. The law also sets forth minimum wages, which must be
paid to construction workers on public work projects and to
employees performing government contract service work (e.g.
maintenance or janitorial work at a government building or
facility). The Wage and Hour Division of the United States
Department of Labor investigates and enforces violations of these
federal laws. In addition, the state Attorney General’s office
enforces the state wage law and can help collect unpaid wages to
What are my rights if I'm a victim of a job-related injury?
Under the Workers’ Compensation laws, all employees are entitled
to compensation for lost wages, permanent injuries, and medical
costs for accidental injuries incurred during the course of
employment. The law also covers compensation for occupational
diseases. Claims for compensation for accidental injuries must be
filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission within two years of
the date of injury. Written notification of an occupational disease
must be given to the employer within one year from the date that he
employee has knowledge of the disease. It should be noted that many
employees think they have filed a claim only to find out that no
claim has been filed. Claims may only be filed on official forms
supplied by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
In certain instances of job-related injuries, employees may not
only make a claim against the employer, but also against third
parties. Where a third party’s negligence has caused the job
accident to occur, such as a truck driver being hit by a
non-employee, the negligent third party may be liable for the
victim’s injuries that are not covered by the compensation
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees workers
unpaid time off from work for medical emergencies. Employers are
required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve
month period for the:
- Birth and care of an infant
- Care of an adopted or foster care child
- Serious health condition of an employee
- Care of a spouse, child or parent with a serious health
The Family Medical Leave Act applies to federal, state and
local governments and to companies with more than 50 or more
workers. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave after they have
worked at 1250 hours for the employer during the previous 12-month
Can my employer retaliate against me if I file a complaint?
Described above are some of the numerous federal and state laws
enacted to protect workers. In most cases, these rights can only be
protected by filing charges with the appropriate government agency
in a timely manner. Each one of these laws also prohibits an
employer’s retaliation against an employee for filing a charge or
complaint. Even if the employee is unsuccessful in having a
complaint or charge corrected, the employee can not be disciplined
or otherwise discriminated against for making the complaint. The law
further protects any co-workers who assist or act as witness for the
person filing the charge.
What does at will employment mean?
Without an employment contract or union or other collectively
bargained contract, Maryland law generally considers workers to be
employees "at will." Without a contract, an employer may hire and
fire employees and determine all aspects of workers’ employment at
his or her will as along as the employer does not violate any other
law. For example, an employer may discharge a 20-year veteran
employee for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all, if it
is not for a discriminatory or other unlawful reason.
Even without a specific signed employment contract, some
personnel manuals and other company policies, practices, and
documents may be interpreted as creating contractual rights. Oral
promises to provide certain benefits or wages in order to persuade
someone to accept employment may also be considered to create such
rights. Whether a contract has been created depends on the facts and
circumstances of each case. If a specific
written contract exists, either an individual employment contract or
a collective bargaining agreement (union contract), or an employer
may use the legal process to enforce any portion of the
In Maryland, it is illegal to fire someone for reasons that are
in violation of clear public policy. This kind of firing is often
called abusive discharge. As an example, an employee who is
discharged for refusing to commit an illegal act may have an action
for abusive discharge against the employer.
What are the privacy rights of employees?
Under Maryland law, job applicants and employees may not be
required to submit to a lie detector test either to obtain a job or
keep one. An employer may not require a job applicant to answer any
questions pertaining to physical, psychological or psychiatric
illness, disability, handicap or testament that does not directly
affect the applicant’s ability to perform the job.
Employers have a legitimate interest in monitoring employee
performance in the workplace, especially their productivity, safety
and efficiency. Recent advances in technology have resulted in
employer using new methods of employee monitoring, including
electronic monitoring of e-mail, telephone calls, and computer
usage. The law does permit employers to conduct electronic
surveillance, such as telephone monitoring, when it is done to serve
legitimate business interest such as monitoring quality of customer
service. The law allows employers to intercept and listen to only
business-related calls. A personal call may not be monitored once it
is determined to be one.
Employers are also permitted to monitor e-mail usage where the
employer owns and provides the computer equipment and it is intended
to be used for work purposes only. The law protects employees from
an invasion of privacy by their employers in regard to their
possessions and private lives, not their use of the employer’s
property. The law prevents unreasonable intrusion upon an employee’s
privacy, public disclosure of embarrassing private information; and
publicly placing an employee’s reputation in a false light.
With regard to job references, employers may not communicate
false information to prospective employers without possibly being
subject to a lawsuit for character defamation. Employers are also
prohibited from communicating certain other types of information
about a former employee without the express consent of the
What is the law regarding drug testing of employees?
Without a contract covering employment, employers are generally
free to set terms and conditions of employment. Therefore, employers
are free to implement drug-screening programs for employees and job
applicants. Where a contract exists, the employee must determine
whether a drug testing policy would violate that agreement.
Employers who require employees to be drug screened must have the
test analyzed by a laboratory that is certified under state
regulations. Additionally, employees who test positive for drugs
have a right to the results of the test and an opportunity to have
the test sample analyzed by a laboratory at the employee’s expense.
There are similar requirements for applicants for employment and for
contractors who are required to undergo drug screening by an
employer. However, in public service jobs, drug testing may
constitute an unlawful invasion of the employee’s privacy or
otherwise be considered unlawful. Each case must be evaluated by the
specific facts involved.