D.C. and Maryland Respond to COVID-19 Realities with Broadened Employee Protections

Date   Mar 20, 2020

Executive Summary: On March 17, 2020, the District of Columbia Council passed new legislation, the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act, expanding the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance for workers who are laid off or lose hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and expanding employee protections under the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA). The new law temporarily expands the eligibility requirements to apply for unemployment insurance benefits and eliminates eligibility requirements under the DC FMLA, lengthening the availability of such benefits through the duration of this public health emergency.

Similarly, in Maryland, on March 19, 2020, Governor Hogan signed legislation permitting the Governor to issue an order prohibiting an employer from terminating an employee solely because the employee has been required to go into isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19. This legislation further allows the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor to allow temporarily laid off/quarantined individuals, and seemingly even those who quit their job “due to a risk of exposure to infection,” to collect unemployment insurance benefits. To date, neither the Governor nor Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor have acted upon their new authority.

New Legislation:

Washington D.C.: Under the new COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act, employees are entitled to new protections under DC’s unemployment insurance law and the DC FMLA. Specifically, the law entitles affected employees employed in the District of Columbia to unemployment insurance benefits during the period of time for which the Mayor has declared a public health emergency. The law defines an affected person as an employee otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits who is determined by the Mayor to have become unemployed or partially unemployed as a result of the circumstances giving rise to the public health emergency, including those required to go into quarantine or isolation by the Department of Health or any other applicable District or federal agency, an employee who has self-quarantined on recommendation of a medical professional, or an employee whose employer ceased or reduced operations by reason of the public health emergency.

Further, the Act expands the DC FMLA by creating a new category of leave, Declaration-of-Emergency (DOE) leave. An employee is now entitled to job-protected DOE leave when he/she is unable to work during a period of time in which the D.C. Mayor has declared a public health emergency and the Mayor or a medical professional orders or recommends that employee to self-quarantine. Furthermore, the legislation temporarily suspends the requirement that an employee be employed for one year and for 1,000 hours for coverage, so all D.C.-based employees are eligible, regardless of length of service. It also eliminates the employer size threshold, making this law applicable to all employers within the District of Columbia. Finally, the legislation eliminates the length of covered leave by allowing such leave to extend through the duration of the declared public health emergency.

This law will remain in effect for no more than 90 days.

Maryland: Before entering into an early recess, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation giving Governor Hogan the authority to take a number of actions, including prohibiting any employer from “terminating an employee solely on the basis that the employee has been required to be isolated or quarantined” under Maryland law. Further, the law gives the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor the authority to determine that an individual, who need not separate from the individual’s employment, be eligible for benefits if:

  1. the individual’s employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
  2. the individual is quarantined due to COVID-19 with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; or
  3. the individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection of COVID-19 or to care for a family member due to COVID-19.

Governor Hogan approved this legislation on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The legislation will remain in effect for the duration of Governor Hogan’s March 5, 2020 declaration of a state of emergency. According to the legislative language, however, the authority granted to the Governor and Secretary of Labor may remain available in any declared state of emergency through April 30, 2021

If you have any questions regarding this Alert, please feel free to contact the Alert’s authors, Jacki Thompson, a partner in FordHarrison’s Washington, D.C. office, at jthompson@fordharrison.comGarrett Buttrey, an associate in FordHarrison’s Washington, D.C. office, at, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you regularly work.

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