Friday, March 08, 2013

Triple Damages for Overtime: an Update

  This post covers what I call "The Overtime Amendment" to the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law.  In 2010, the Maryland General Assembly added two words to the definition of wages under the Law. Wages now includes "overtime wages," which are eligible for triple damages.  Since the addition of those words, I have found only one reported decision from our State Court that addresses The Overtime Amendment (many Federal Courts have addressed it, a topic which I will cover in another post).  The case is Montgomery County v. Deibler.  

The issue in Deibler was whether the ability to earn overtime wages should be included in an employee’s “wage earning capacity” as defined by the worker’s compensation statute.   MD. CODE ANN., LAB. & EMPL. §9-615(a)(1).  The claimant suffered a knee injury that prevented him from working overtime.  To collect temporary disability benefits his post-disability wage earning capacity had to be less than his pre-disability wage earning capacity.  Montgomery County argued that the ability to earn overtime did not decrease the claimant’s wage earning capacity.

To divine the meaning of the phrase “wage earning capacity,” the Court looked at how the General Assembly defined wages throughout the Labor and Employment Article, including in the MWPCL (before the Overtime Amendment).  According to the Court, the meaning of the word “wage” in each of the statutes “includes a wide range of employment remunerations, including overtime compensation.”  423 Md. at 72 “[T]o read ‘wage’ more narrowly to exclude overtime compensation (as the County would have us do) would produce a ‘farfetched, absurd or illogical result[] which would not likely have been intended by the enacting body.’” Id., quoting, Kilom v. State, 394 Md. 168, 177, 905 A.2d 306, 311 (2006).  According to the Court, the Overtime Amendment clarified the existing definition of wages, which had always included overtime. 423 Md. at 70 n.6.  

The takeaway:  overtime is collectible under the Law and is subject to triple damages.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Vague Claims of Stolen "Pricing Knowledge" Do Not Support Maryland Uniform Trade Secret Act Claims

  I often defend employees accused of non-compete violations.  Tacked on to these claims are often alleged violations of the Maryland Uniform Trade Secrets Act (link to law review article).  The Act allows a Court to award fees to an employer if it prevails (but apparently no reported decision has ever done so according to the article.)

Proving information is truly a trade secret is no easy task. In Structural Preservation Systems v. Andrews,  the employer alleged that its former employees stole its “pricing structure, pricing knowledge and research, and established customer relationships."  The Maryland Federal District Court (Judge Marvin Garbis) ruled, however, that the employer's allegation were too vague to form a valid claim for a violation of the Act.  The Court relied on the Act's definition of trade secret.   To qualify for protection, the information must "derive independent economic value . . . from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use."  Pricing information is rarely a trade secret because it is rarely a secret (since prices are shared with customers).    Ultimately, the Court dismissed the employer's trade secret claims.      

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Proposed Bill Would Require Maryland Employers To Provide Mandatory Sick Leave

Current Maryland State Law does not require that employer provide paid or unpaid leave.  Bills introduced in the Senate (SB698) and the House (HB735) would require employers to provide paid sick leave. An employee would earn at least 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works up to 7 days of sick leave per year.  The laws would allow employees to care for themselves and most dependents.  The Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposes the legislation; while workers' rights groups support it.  The Fiscal Note provides a good summary of the proposed law.

Of course, some employees (who work for employers with 50 or more employees) are guaranteed at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave for some illnesses under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.  Also, the Maryland Flexible Leave Act states that if an employer (with more than 15 employees)  already offers paid  leave, it must allow an employee to use it to care for a sick family member.  Other laws may require an employer to allow an employee to use leave as an accommodation for a disability.   The reality is, however, that most low wage and part-time employees get no sick leave.