Work is a constant in the lives of Maryland’s residents. As of October 2023, there are roughly 2.7 million jobs in the state’s nonfarm industries, and the majority of these are in the private sector. Meanwhile, government jobs reached over half a million. All of these occupations, no matter the industry, are governed by employment and labor laws that regulate how businesses and their employees should interact.
Employment law deals with the employer-employee relationship. It rules over minimum wage and overtime pay, holidays and break periods, and wrongful termination. Any matter involving proper and fair treatment and compensation of workers falls under employment law.
On the other hand, labor law involves collective bargaining and unions. It controls concerted actions, the right to organize, and the ability of a union to fight for better employment terms and conditions. It is vital because workers have more power as a collective than as individuals to negotiate with their employers.
Several of these employment and labor laws are discussed in this article to help workers navigate the state’s legal system in case their rights are violated. It also lists various resources relevant to their legal pursuit and situation.
Minimum Wage in Maryland
At the most basic level, the minimum wage in Maryland is higher than the federally appointed one. For 2023, the following minimum hourly rates should be observed by Maryland employers:
For businesses that employ fewer than 15 workers: $12.80.
For businesses that employ at least 15 workers: $13.25.
These rates are bound to increase to $15 in 2024 for business ventures of all sizes.
Meanwhile, the counties of Montgomery and Howard observe different minimum hourly rates compared to the rest of the state:
For businesses that employ 10 or fewer workers: $14.50 (will be $15 in 2024).
For businesses that employ 11 to 50 workers: $15.
For businesses that employ at least 51 workers: $16.70.
For businesses that employ fewer than 15 workers: $13.25 (will increase per year until it becomes $16 in July 2026).
For businesses that employ at least 15 workers: $15.
Workers who receive over $30 in tips per month are also entitled to the minimum wage. This means their hourly rate (at least $3.63) and their tips should reach the minimum wage rate. If the total is lower, their employer has to cover the difference.
However, note that not all workers in the state are covered by the minimum wage requirements. These include:
Members of the employer’s immediate family.
Specific types of agricultural workers.
Those younger than 16 and who work less than 20 hours a week.
Administrative, executive, and professional employees.
Those earning on a commission basis.
Volunteers for charitable, educational, religious, and nonprofit organizations.
Non-administrative workers in organized camps.
Trainees enrolled in a public school special education program.
Those who work in drive-in theaters.
Workers in establishments offering food and beverages on their premises that earn less than $400,000 in annual gross income.
Workers in businesses that can, pack, or freeze specific kinds of food items, such as vegetables, fruits, seafood, or poultry.
Overtime Pay in Maryland
According to state law, overtime pay is given whenever a worker renders more than 40 hours of work a week. The overtime rate is 1.5 times that of one’s regular rate. In addition to the classes of workers enumerated in the previous section, the following are also not entitled to overtime pay:
Nonprofit promoters of music festivals, theaters, musical pavilions, or theatrical shows.
Specific classes of workers who sell or service automobiles, trucks, farm equipment, or trailers.
Those working for specific kinds of seasonal amusement and recreational establishments.
Those working under employers bound by certain railroad regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Act, and the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Work Breaks and Holidays in Maryland
In Maryland, employers are not required to provide break periods to their employees during the workday. This is unless one works for a retail establishment or is under the age of 18. For minor workers, the law mandates a 30-minute downtime after every five hours of work.
There are no laws governing holiday breaks or special holiday pay for private-sector workers within the state. But like in the case of break periods, an exception exists for workers in the retail industry; they are entitled to one rest day a week for religious reasons.
This means that for breaks and holiday pay to be granted, there has to be a prior collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract stipulating these benefits.
Union Membership in Maryland
The law governing unionization in Maryland is the Federal National Labor Relations Act. It gives employees the right to establish a union or to try to disable one that is no longer supported by its members. Workers also have the following basic rights:
Joining a union, regardless of whether the employer recognizes it.
Being fairly represented by the union.
Assisting the union in organizing employee actions.
Engaging in concerted actions like strikes.
Refusing to exercise any of these rights.
The last item in the list above is particularly valuable in that it gives employees the right to remain independent from any union coverage yet be free from discrimination. Unlike in other countries where union membership can be mandatory in a closed shop arrangement, Maryland does not force union membership on anyone.
Unionization laws, however, exempt the following types of workers:
Domestic service workers employed in a home.
Those employed by their parent or spouse.
Supervisors (who are technically part of management).
Those who are covered by employers under the Railway Labor Act.
Strikes in Maryland
The right to strike covers two kinds of actions under federal law: economic strikes and unfair labor practice strikes. The former refers to attempts to garner economic benefits and concessions from an employer. Those who strike for economic reasons remain lawfully employed but may be replaced temporarily. If permanent replacements are necessary during the strike, reinstatement will not be granted immediately after the strike. Nevertheless, the strikers may be reinstated if they cannot obtain regular and similar work.
Unfair labor practice strikes are caused by an employer’s attempts to suppress its employees’ rights to self-organize and engage in concerted action. Any interference in the right to collectively bargain and form a union can result in a lawful strike. When this occurs, no permanent replacement of strikers is allowed. Moreover, unless there is serious misconduct by a participating employee, they are entitled to immediate reinstatement, even if their replacement needs to be fired.
Strikers have to follow norms of conduct when picketing or protesting. These include:
Not physically blocking employees who wish to work.
Not threatening violence on those who do not want to join the strike.
Not attacking representatives of management.
Giving a formal notice 10 days in advance (for workers in healthcare institutions).
Is Maryland an At-Will Employment State?
Because Maryland is an at-will employment state, employers can hire or fire an employee for any reason, as long as it is rightful under the law. In other words, an employee can stay with their company as long as their boss needs or wants them to. The flip side is also true: an employee is just as free to stay or leave their place of employment without adverse legal consequences.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Maryland?
Maryland follows an at-will employment principle, but that does not mean that an employer’s right to fire an employee at any time is absolute. There are still limits imposed by the law due to public policy considerations and acts of discrimination.
Employers may not fire an employee due to discrimination based on their color, race, gender, age, religion, disability, or another protected category. They also cannot terminate a worker’s employment contract for:
Fighting for their rights under minimum wage and overtime laws.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Fighting for a safer work environment.
Alerting the authorities about any illegal practices (whistleblowing).
Reporting to military or jury duty.
Neither may employers subject a worker to wage attachment because of debt. Moreover, the existence of a written employment contract or collective bargaining agreement moves the employment arrangement into the realm of contract law. As such, an employer’s ability to dismiss a worker becomes limited by what is written in the contract. Any violation constitutes a contractual breach, which can be enough cause to pursue litigation or mediation.
How Do You Report an Employer in Maryland for Wrongful Termination?
If one would like to report an employer for wrongful termination, one must have no other remedy under state law. These three elements must also be present:
The employee was dismissed.
Their employer violated the law when terminating them.
There is a connection between the employee’s conduct and the termination done by the employer.
The process to report an employer that committed wrongful termination also depends on which law it violated. If one was fired based on unlawful discrimination due to age, sex, or a similar protected class, one could file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.
A wrongfully terminated worker can start the process by filling out the preliminary questionnaire online. Afterward, the intake unit will schedule an interview with them over the phone or in person. Supporting documents and evidence will then be requested by the MCCR. If there is probable cause to believe that discrimination did occur, conciliation proceedings will follow. If these fail, the case will be elevated to the commission’s Office of the General Counsel, which will issue a legal opinion.
If there is no probable cause, the case will be dismissed. Nevertheless, the complainant is allowed to file for reconsideration within 15 days. This will result in either an upholding of the original decision or the reopening of the case for further investigation.
In addition to filing a complaint with the MCCR, one may also need to perform the same action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If a case involves the violation of a written employment contract, there’s no need to go through the MCCR or the EEOC. One just has to file a case in the regular courts.
For those choosing to file a case, it is generally advised to hire a lawyer because of how complex employment lawsuits can be. It can be difficult to make an argument against the at-will rights of an employer, and having legal counsel is a good approach for overcoming the odds.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Maryland?
In general, the statute of limitations for a wrongful termination lawsuit in Maryland is three years. But it may also vary based on what the cause of action is, such as the following:
If the basis of a wrongful termination case is age discrimination, a complaint has to be submitted to the MCCR within 300 days of the alleged incident. After 60 days, one may file a lawsuit within a two-year timeframe.
If the basis is wrongful termination arising from a public policy violation, the deadline is two years. However, the MCCR must first receive a complaint within 180 days and then investigate it before one can only pursue a lawsuit.
If the basis is a breach of contract, the case has to be brought within three years of the said act.
Plaintiffs should take full note of these deadlines and work with an attorney to ensure that their case will not be dismissed due to purely technical reasons.
How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Maryland for Wrongful Termination?
Compensation for wrongful termination cases in Maryland comes in the form of damages meant to restore what was lost by the claimant. Chief among these damages is lost pay, which encompasses not just the basic pay that they would have earned but also their potential overtime pay. Any benefits involved, like retirement and health plans, may also be compensated in the form of a monetary award.
In addition to the economic damages above, a wrongfully terminated worker may also obtain non-economic damages. These refer to intangible losses they have sustained, such as emotional distress and mental anguish. However, note that there are caps on non-economic damages imposed by state law for wrongful termination cases based on a business’s number of employees:
Number of Employees
Cap on Damages
15 to 100
101 to 200
201 to 500
Employers with fewer than 15 employees are not included here since the state’s anti-discrimination laws do not apply to them in the first place.
Resources for Employees in Maryland
Just because a worker in Maryland has to fight for their rights in the workplace, it doesn't mean that one has to do it alone. There are numerous affordable resources for those who require legal assistance when ironing out issues with their employer. There are also government services for those who need help while in between jobs.
Maryland Legal Aid
Maryland Legal Aid offers free legal assistance to the residents of the state who cannot afford a lawyer on their own. It is the largest provider of direct and free legal services in Maryland, effectively making it the third biggest law firm in the jurisdiction. It takes on civil cases and gives brief advice for employer-employee matters such as unpaid wages. The firm also tackles issues related to child custody, housing, consumer, and expungement law. Of particular note is its expungement advocacy, which is aimed at improving people’s odds of starting anew and finding gainful employment.
Mediation First, Inc.
Mediation First, Inc. offers alternative dispute resolution methods that are affordable and accessible in Washington County and the nearby communities. It takes on employment disputes and issues between coworkers and supervisors. It offers an alternative to lengthy and costly litigation and also covers matters such as land use, interpersonal disagreements, noise and property flare-ups, and landlord-tenant issues. Meeting facilitation and community-wide negotiation options are available. Mediation First, Inc. is located at:
82 W. Washington Street
Hagerstown, MD 21740
For inquiries, call 240-200-0983 or send an email to Info@mediation1st.org.
Maryland Free Legal Answers
Maryland Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal clinic with ties to the American Bar Association. Qualified users can post their civil legal queries online and will be notified through email once the answers are ready. Actual members of the group come up with the legal advice at no cost. In addition to unemployment and employment law concerns, the website processes inquiries regarding consumer rights, health and disability, income maintenance, and civil rights matters. It is active in 40 states.
The Maryland Courts Access to Justice Department
The Maryland Courts Access to Justice Department assists people in representing themselves before the courts. The institution operates under the judicial system and has developed instructional materials and programs for those with no access to a lawyer and who wish to go to court by themselves. Self-help centers are also available for those inclined to seek legal remedies. It is part of the court’s advocacy to increase access to the justice system even if there are not enough pro-bono options around or if a plaintiff genuinely wants to do things alone. It is reachable at:
187 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21401
Maryland Food Bank
The Maryland Food Bank is an institution that gives food assistance to qualified individuals, such as workers who are in between jobs. It has partnerships with major chains like Walmart and Target. To know if you qualify to receive its services, you may reach it at:
2200 Halethorpe Farms Road
Baltimore, MD 21227
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