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Maine Employment and Labor Laws

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During the first half of 2023, more than 600,000 individuals in Maine were employed in the public and private sectors. As it has over 1.3 million residents, it can be said that a great number of its population is part of the workforce. Since manpower is critical to the progress of the state, various Maine employment and labor laws protect the welfare of local workers.

The state’s employment laws affect the direct relationships between employees and employers. Meanwhile, its labor laws are involved when there is another party — a union, for instance — that stands for the rights of employees. This article talks about specific aspects of both legal fields. It covers the most important parts of state legislation — from hiring to firing — that local workers should know about.

Basic Maine Employment and Labor Laws

Labor and employment laws in Maine are implemented by the Department of Labor. Thus, any breach of such laws may be reported to the office. But before reporting any violation or misconduct, it is important to learn about the state’s general laws on the matter. Some of these are laid out below:

Working Hours

Maine does not generally define full-time and part-time employment. This is something that is left for the employer to decide. Instead, state law primarily focuses on overtime and the working hours of underage employees.

Employers cannot legally require their workers to complete 80 hours of overtime within two weeks unless they are part of certain sectors. Some exempt workers include emergency service providers and agricultural laborers. Nurses, meanwhile, are entitled to 10 hours of break after a shift and cannot be forced to work more than 12 hours continuously.

On the other hand, Maine has very specific rules regarding minor workers’ work hours. Those below 16 cannot work during school hours and can only complete:

  • Three hours on school days.

  • Eight hours on no-school days.

Moreover, they can only work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year. During summer break, they can take a shift up to 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, the following are the allowed work hours for those aged 16 and 17:

  • Six hours on a school day.

  • Eight hours on the last day of a school week.

  • 10 hours on no-school days.

They cannot work earlier than 7 a.m. on school days and 5 a.m. on no-school days. Moreover, they can work until 10:15 p.m. if the following day is a school day and up to midnight if they don’t have classes the next day.

Workplace Rest Breaks

Businesses in Maine with at least three employees must provide a 30-minute break — whether paid or unpaid — after six hours of work. The said break may be used for taking lunch or meals. It may also be used by nursing mothers for expressing milk, which they must do in a clean room provided by the employer. Employers are allowed to prohibit their workers from leaving the building during their break.

Preference for Local Workers

Maine has a law that prioritizes its residents for certain types of jobs. Specifically, construction projects funded by the state and worth more than $10,000 are allowed to give priority to local contractors and workers when hiring.

Labor Unions

Maine respects workers’ rights to unionize and bargain with their employers for better pay or benefits. In line with this, the state’s Labor Relations Board regulates union activities in most public and farm-related workplaces.

Maine also has a law on strikebreakers or individuals who choose to work for a company despite its workers’ ongoing strike. Per state law, companies cannot hire new workers while in the middle of a labor dispute.

Hiring and Termination of Workers

Maine law prohibits businesses from hiring and firing workers based on the following:

  • Race and skin color.

  • Religion.

  • Gender and sexual orientation.

  • Age.

  • Birthplace and ancestry.

  • Disability.

The Whistleblowers Protection Act also prevents employers from firing, threatening, or not hiring a worker who served as a whistleblower. A whistleblower is one who reports violations, health and safety risks, or medical errors in a workplace. They can also be someone involved in an investigation.

Additionally, a business may be reported if it refuses to pay wages to an employee it fired. The law states that a terminated employee must be paid their due wages plus any applicable vacation pay. If an employer decides to move elsewhere or shut down, it must also give severance pay if it is terminating at least 100 workers.

Child Labor Laws in Maine

The working hours of underage employees are only a portion of the child labor laws Maine implements to protect minors. There are several other rules and regulations that businesses must abide by.

Chief among them is prohibiting minors from working — even if their employer is their parent — without a work permit from the state’s Department of Labor. Because the permit can only be acknowledged at one’s current workplace, a new one must be requested if a minor changes their occupation or employer. The only types of work for minors that don’t require a work permit are domestic and farm work.

Note that minors who are habitually absent from school, under suspension, or do not generally have passing grades may not be granted the permit. Moreover, the permit requires consent from one’s parents and proof of age submitted to the school superintendent. Applicants cannot bypass the latter, as the office will forward the work permit request to the Department of Labor.

Underage employees are also barred from doing certain tasks. The prohibitions vary based on age but generally include:

  • Driving.

  • Working in highly elevated places or tight spaces.

  • Handling powered equipment like saws or slicers.

  • Excavating, demolishing, wrecking, manufacturing, or handling explosives.

  • Working hazardous jobs.

  • Baking or cooking.

  • Performing warehouse or manufacturing duties.

  • Working in dry cleaning, laundry, freezers, and meat coolers.

  • Unloading and loading vehicles.

In addition, businesses must visibly display a poster highlighting the state’s child labor laws. Any violation of these rules leads to fines of up to $50,000.

Maine Wage Laws

Wage laws determine how much employees in Maine should be paid. These also cover other aspects relating to workers’ pay. For instance, there is a rule stating that wages must be given within 16 days. Another statute specifies that employers cannot deduct certain costs — like merchandise broken by a worker during production — from wages.

State law also prevents employers from discriminating against an employee through their wages. This means they cannot withhold salaries due to biases or because employees discussed their salaries with one another.

Standard Minimum Wage

Maine is among the states with the highest minimum hourly wages. From $11.00 in 2019, its minimum wage rate has seen an incremental rise through the years until it became $13.80 in 2023. For the year 2024, it is bound to increase again to $14.15, which is almost twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Minimum Direct Wage for Tipped Employees

A minimum direct wage equivalent to $6.90 per hour applies to tipped employees, such as restaurant servers. They have a lower rate because it is assumed that the rest will be covered by their tips. However, if the tips they receive are not enough, their employer will have to cover the remaining amount.

Training or Student Wages

The minimum wage also applies to students and individuals participating in on-the-job training programs; businesses should not pay their workers less just because they are still in school or training in preparation for work.

Exemptions

Most employees are paid on an hourly basis, following the minimum wage per hour. However, businesses may deviate from that arrangement for their executive, administrative, and professional employees. Instead of paying them by the hour, they can be paid a salary amounting to at least $735.59 per week.

Another exemption is for agricultural workers, who do not qualify as employees except if they work on a farm with over 300,000 laying birds. However, there have been legal and political discussions over the matter, touching on whether a minimum overtime wage for farm workers should be required.

Overtime Pay

The overtime pay in Maine is equivalent to 1.5 times the standard minimum wage. This means that, for 2023, the minimum wage for overtime hours in Maine is $20.70.

Overtime hours are those beyond 40 work hours per week. If, for instance, you worked on a holiday, it will only be considered overtime if you have already rendered 40 hours that week.

Insurance and Pension Benefits in Maine

All workers in the U.S. are entitled to medical insurance and pensions, as these rights are safeguarded not just by state law but by federal legislation. In addition to those benefits, Maine employees may also receive unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance.

Unemployment insurance is helpful for workers who suddenly lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Meanwhile, workers’ compensation pays for the expenses arising from work-related illnesses and injuries.

Laws on Work Leaves in Maine

Work leaves allow employees to take time away from work to attend to emergencies, relax on a vacation, or do other things outside of work. There are two types of leaves — paid and unpaid — and Maine labor law requires most businesses to provide both.

All businesses in Maine that have at least 10 employees — regardless of the industry they belong to — must provide one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours the employee has worked.

Note that this benefit applies to all types of workers, including those working full-time, part-time, or temporarily. However, those working under collective bargaining agreements before 2021 may not be entitled to paid work leave unless stated in the agreement.

The law limits 40 hours of paid leave per year, but employees may negotiate for better work leave benefits that are mandatory. Also, unused paid leave hours may be carried over to the next year.

If a worker uses paid leave before they have accrued one, their employer may withhold an equivalent amount from their pay. Furthermore, employers may require workers to give advance notice when they intend to use their leave unless the purpose is sudden, like an emergency or sickness.

Additionally, employers may deny a request for leave if a worker does not notify them ahead of time or plans to take a leave during a busy time for the business, such as the holiday season for those in the tourism industry. New employees may also be prevented from using their paid leave for 120 days.

Unpaid Work Leaves

Aside from paid leaves, unpaid leaves allow employees to take a break from work. These can be useful if they run out of the former. Individuals who have been working for at least 12 months for a public agency or business with 15 or more employees are entitled to 10 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leaves. They may also get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they have completed 1,250 working hours for their employer in the previous year.

However, these unpaid leaves are only granted in certain situations, such as:

  • A serious illness incurred by the worker or a member of their family.

  • The birth of a child.

  • Adoption of a child.

  • Organ donation.

  • The death of a family member who was on active military duty.

Is Maine an At-Will Employment State?

Maine, like most U.S. states, is governed by an at-will employment system. Thus, employers can terminate their workers at any time for no reason or for any reason deemed legal within the scope of the law.

At the same time, employees can also leave their work at any time without any justifiable reason. Under the at-will employment system, a notice is not necessary to end a work contract, whether from the side of an employer or an employee.

Nevertheless, workers who are protected by collective bargaining agreements or contracts may not be considered at-will employees, as the terms regarding their termination may be more stringent.

It may be interesting to note that not everyone is in favor of the at-will employment doctrine in Maine. There have been attempts to end it to protect workers from unfair or discriminatory firing. Indeed, legislative bills were filed and considered for such a motion. However, after these were rejected in June 2021, Maine remains an at-will employment state.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Maine?

Here are some situations that may qualify as wrongful termination in Maine:

  • Firing an employee for discriminatory reasons, such as biases on race, age, gender, or sex.

  • Terminating the work contract of an employee after exercising their rights, such as by making a complaint to the company’s human resources department.

  • Firing a worker as retaliation for exposing an unsafe practice in the workplace (i.e., being a whistleblower).

  • Firing a worker in a way that violates a contract the employer had signed and agreed to.

As seen in the examples above, although employers can terminate workers without reason, they cannot do so if it goes against the law. Otherwise, they may be charged with wrongful termination. Workers in the state may consult an employment lawyer if they suspect that they have been wrongfully terminated by their employer.

How Do You Report an Employer in Maine for Wrongful Termination?

There are different ways to report an employer in Maine for wrongful termination, depending on the specifics of the situation.

If a worker is uncertain about the reason they were fired, they may ask for an explanation from their employer via a certified letter. The employer, in turn, must respond within 15 days if they want to avoid fines or the use of their nonresponse as evidence in a potential wrongful termination case.

If the basis for wrongful termination is discrimination, a complaint may be sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days. In cases where the type of discrimination involved is also prohibited in accordance with state law, the complainant is given 300 days to submit a report to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Other reasons for termination that can be filed with the HRC include:

  • Whistleblowing.

  • Refusal to do an unsafe task.

  • Attendance on jury duty.

  • Filing of workers’ compensation.

One can begin the process online or directly submit a report in person to the following address:

Maine Human Rights Commission
51 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0051

Meanwhile, if an employee gets fired as a form of retaliation after reporting a safety issue at work, a report should be submitted to OSHA within 30 to 180 days.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Maine?

If a person’s firing involved the breach of a written or oral contract, they can file a lawsuit within six years. The same deadline applies if a fired employee would like to pursue a tort case. Wrongful termination involving defamation, personal injury, or a violation of public policy may fall under tort law. 

Since the statute of limitations for a wrongful termination case depends on the facts surrounding the incident, contact an experienced employment lawyer to be certain of the statute of limitations that applies to your case. 

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Maine for Wrongful Termination?

The amount a wrongfully terminated employee can obtain in a claim or case depends on various factors.

For instance, in a successful wrongful termination complaint, an employee typically receives an amount equal to their wages, vacation pay, and other similar payments. However, if a lawsuit is filed instead of a report, there may be limits to the amount one may receive.

In discrimination lawsuits, the employer at fault may be asked to pay damages ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. Meanwhile, for tort cases against the government, there is a $400,000 limit.

With these considerations in mind, it is in one’s best interest to know how to maximize one’s recoverable damages.

Resources for Employees in Maine

Maine Department of Labor Website

The Maine Department of Labor website has information on every stage of a worker’s employment journey. It has a Maine Employee Rights Guide that summarizes all the important laws that affect employees and their workplace. The site also has a Labor Laws page, which has a compilation of resources, statistics, and forms for workplace safety, wages, unemployment, and related topics.

Maine State Legislature Employment Law Resources Page

The Employment Law Resources page of the Maine State Legislature site provides a directory of offices and organizations a worker in Maine may approach for assistance regarding disability and discrimination issues in the workplace. It also has a list of contacts and references for cases involving sexual harassment and workers’ compensation.

AccessMaine

Workers who need a lawyer’s assistance in matters involving wrongful termination, work safety issues, or workplace discrimination may visit AccessMaine’s Legal Resources page. It directs site visitors to organizations that offer services for free or for a minimal fee.

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