Important Maine Employment Law Changes That Your Nonprofit Should Know About
Reprinted with permission from The Maine Nonprofit Law E-Bulletin September 2019, by Robert H. Levin, Attorney-at-Law with the Law Office of Robert H. Levin.
Since May, the Legislature and Governor have passed several changes to state employment laws that will affect all employers, including nonprofit organizations. All of these laws take effect on September 18, 2019. Overall, these are progressive statutes that will help Maine workers and we should celebrate their passage. Here are the highlights:
- Noncompete Agreements Substantially Restricted – 2019 P.L. 513 (L.D. 733) establishes significant new limits on so-called noncompete agreements, where employees agree not to work for a competitor after ceasing employment with their current employers. Over the past couple decades, employers across the nation have broadened and routinized the use of these agreements, to such an extent that they are thought to hold down wages. This law declares noncompete agreements contrary to public policy and unenforceable except if narrowly tailored to protect the employer’s trade secrets, confidential information, or goodwill, and only if the employer notifies the employee of the agreement prior to the original offer employment. Even if these exceptions are met, noncompete agreements are flatly prohibited for any employee earning at or below 400% of the federal poverty level (as of 2019 about $50,000 for a single individual, rising to about $100,000 for a four-person household). Similarly, agreements between two or more employers that restrict soliciting or hiring an employer’s employees are also prohibited. Although noncompete agreements are more common in the business sector, I have occasionally seen them discussed or implemented in the nonprofit realm.
- Compensation History Inquiries Prohibited – Under 2019 P.L. Ch. 35 (L.D. 278) employers may no longer inquire about the compensation histories of prospective employees. Such inquiries, or attempts to discover such information through other means, will constitute unlawful discrimination. The bill recognizes that hiring or compensation decisions based on past compensation levels tends to perpetuate wage inequality between men and women. Employers are encouraged to review their application and interview forms and practices to ensure compliance.
- Gender Identity Discrimination Prohibited – 2019 P.L. Ch. 464 (L.D. 1701) amends the Maine Human Rights Act by prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in employment and public accommodations. Any nonprofit that owns, leases or operates a place of public accommodation, such as a museum, visitor’s center or an office that is open to the public, falls within this statute. In particular, the bill prohibits restricting a single-occupancy restroom (i.e., one that is for use by one individual or for family or assisted use and has a lockable outer door) to members of one sex.
- Pregnancy-Related Discrimination Prohibited – 2019 P.L. 490 (L.D. 666) also broadens the Maine Human Rights Act by prohibiting discrimination based on any “pregnancy-related condition,” including pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions such as lactation. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation for such conditions unless such accommodation would impose “undue hardship” on the employer’s business operations. Several examples of reasonable accommodation are expressly noted, including longer break times and more comfortable seating equipment. A separate bill passed in 2009 already requires Maine employers to provide break time and private spaces other than bathrooms for nursing mothers to express breast milk.