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Employee Freedom of Speech Protections Enacted

Effective October 25, 2023, employers cannot fire, discipline, or penalize an employee because they:

  • Declined to attend an employer-sponsored meeting discussing the employer’s religious or political opinions;
  • Declined to receive employer-sponsored information about the employer’s religious or political opinions; or
  • Reported a violation of these protections.

The law does not apply to a religious employer nor do the protections prohibit employers from:

  • Communicating legally required information;
  • Having religious/political meetings or communications so long as they’re completely voluntary for employees to attend or receive; or
  • Notifying employees about any information that’s necessary for the employee’s job duties.

A workplace notice of these employee rights should be posted where employee notices are customarily placed.

Limitations on Captive Audience Meetings

Effective October 25, 2023, employers can’t take, or threaten to take, any adverse action against an employee for declining to attend or participate in an employer-sponsored meeting that expresses the employer’s opinion on religious or political matters. The same applies to an employee who declines to receive or listen to communications that convey the employer’s views on religious or political matters. Certain religious employers are exempt.

Matters are defined as religious if they relate to religious belief, affiliation, practice, or the decision to join or support a religious organization or association. Matters are considered political if they relate to any of the following:

  • Elections for political office
  • Political parties
  • Proposals to change legislation, regulations, or public policy
  • The decision to join or support any political party or political, civic, community, fraternal, or labor organization

Notably, this law prevents employers from coercing employees to attend “captive audience meetings” where the employer presents their views on unionization or labor organizing. It doesn’t apply to meetings or communications that are strictly voluntary, necessary for employees to perform their job duties, or communications that are required by law.

Employers were required to post a notice to employees about these rights within 30 days of the law becoming effective. The law doesn’t say whether the state will create a sample notice. Post the required notice where other employee notices.

Equal Pay Law’s New Antidiscrimination Protections

Effective October 25, 2023, employers may not discriminate in the workplace against employees based on their race by paying them less than other employees, of another race, who are doing comparable work with comparable skill, effort, and responsibility. Previously, the law only protected against this type of discrimination when it was based on sex. The law permits wage differentials (e.g., seniority or merit increase systems) that do not discriminate based on sex or race.

Severance Pay Law Expanded

Since 2015, Maine has had a law that requires severance pay and notice when industrial or commercial facilities with 100 or more employees close, engage in a mass layoff, or relocate more than 100 miles away. As of June 29, 2023, the law was expanded to cover employers in all sectors that meet the size and circumstance criteria under the law.

Employers to Pay Out Unused Vacation

Effective January 1, 2023, employers that have 11 or more employees are required to pay out accrued but unused vacation time at the end of employment. This includes when an employer sells its business. The Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) will consider frontloaded vacation to be accrued unless your policy specifically says that frontloaded vacation is an advance against future accruals, in which case employers will still need to pay out a prorated amount. Vacation that was accrued before January 1, 2023, only was to be paid out if you had a policy or practice of paying out vacation at termination. Collective bargaining agreements can establish their own vacation payout requirements.

You might be wondering how this new requirement interacts with Maine’s earned paid leave law. The MDOL explains in guidance that the requirement to pay out unused vacation when an employee separates from employment only applies to vacation. Employers only have to pay out unused earned paid leave at the end of employment if they have a policy or practice of doing so.

The guidance also says that the MDOL will only enforce the payout requirements for employers that have 11 or more employees in Maine. However, the law doesn’t limit the employee count to those in the state.

Finally, while the law and guidance use the word “vacation” and don’t address paid time off benefits by another name, like PTO, it would be safest to assume that any time that can be used for vacationing (other than earned paid leave) should get the same treatment.

HR Services Team
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