When Steve Turner injured his right shoulder two years ago, rather than miss a paycheck he figured out a way to lug mop pails up stairways and maneuver heavy items into dumpsters.

Turner, 63, works two part-time jobs in Mechanic Falls, at the town hall and at the municipal transfer station. It’s physical labor and not very glamorous, but he knows that cleaning toilets, handrails and doorknobs can help prevent others from getting sick.

Overcompensating for his injury did a number on his left shoulder, such that now both of them pop and click on occasion, but he can still do his job.

“I am very lucky and very grateful that my employers kept me on,” Turner said, “and that my co-workers picked up the slack while I was trying to move stuff from point A to point B.”

Should something similar happen to Turner or workers like him this year, another option is available. Maine has become the first state in the country to adopt an earned paid leave law. Passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Mills in May 2019, it took effect at the start of this month.

For every 40 hours worked, an employee banks one hour of earned paid leave, up to a total of 40 in a defined year. The leave can be used for any reason, including vacation, illness, injury or an unforeseen necessity.

Businesses covered by the law include those with at least 11 employees in industries deemed nonseasonal, which generally operate more than 26 weeks in a calendar year.

“This paid time off law means a lot to me,” Turner said, “and it ought to mean a lot to my employers. People like me are not just their employees. We’re not just tools to be dropped when we’re broken. We’re also somebody’s customers. We’re also someone’s mom or dad.”

Rules covering the new law became final in September. That’s when the Maine Department of Labor posted details on its website, along with a nine-page document that answered 39 questions.

That document has since expanded to 16 pages and 57 answered questions.

“It’s a growing list,” said Michael Roland, director of the Maine Bureau of Labor Standards. “Occasionally we get questions we hadn’t thought of.”

As a general rule, nonseasonal workers with unemployment insurance coverage are also eligible for earned paid leave. Figuring out how the compensation due an employee for time off can get a little tricky for those who collect tips, commissions or bonuses, but the document provides explanations and examples.

The document also tries to assure employees worried about retaliation that they can’t be disciplined for using earned paid leave, provided they don’t exceed the amount available and do meet the reasonable notice requirement (up to four weeks ahead of time) except for a sudden necessity.

“In the last several months, it’s become more about the practicality about how to implement rather than the larger questions,” Roland said. “People are getting down to the nitty gritty: Who’s covered and how much do we have to pay them? How do we calculate it?”

Over the first full week of January, Roland said his department’s wage and hour division received 231 calls, and nearly half (43 percent) concerned earned leave requirements. He estimated that 85 percent of Maine’s workforce would be covered under the new law, including noncitizens, per diem and part-time workers.

Laura Rideout, a labor attorney with the law firm Preti Flaherty in Portland, said she fielded many questions last quarter about the new law. Among the biggest was how to integrate the new requirement into existing leave policy.

Companies that already offer 40 hours or more per year in sick or vacation leave may still need to make changes, she said. About half opted to make the leave available immediately rather than wait for employees to accrue their hours.

“If it’s a business where there are a lot of year-end deadlines, or things get kind of crazy at year end,” Rideout said, “then front-loading it may lead to employees using the leave on a more even basis throughout the year as opposed to everybody trying to take leave at the end of the year.”

Employers are allowed reasonable restrictions on the use of scheduled leave, she said, but they are prohibited from denying its use unless it would create an undue hardship, “which means a significant operational impact or expense.”

As the mother of two preschool children, Rideout said she appreciates the provisions of the new law. She said a lot of businesses in the state have no paid leave policy for fathers to take time off after a birth, so the child care burden often falls heavily on the mother.

She said she also understands the burden on businesses to implement a large and potentially costly benefit that didn’t previously exist.

“There’s a lot of good things about this law,” she said, “but that’s not to understate the fact that, for some Maine businesses, it could be a challenge to integrate this into their business operation.”

Companies that offer vacation time of at least a week may want to examine their compliance with the new law, particularly if they have a provision requiring a full year of work before vacation time is available, said Anne-Marie Storey, an attorney with the Bangor law firm Rudman Winchell, in a webinar hosted by the Bangor Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s fine for the vacation policy, but that’s not fine for the (earned paid leave),” she said. “You can’t just combine those two and say (to workers), ‘You’re going to get your (earned paid leave), but it doesn’t go into effect for a year,’ because that’s not right.”

Dewey Martin, who owns an accounting firm in Bangor and serves on the taxation committee of the Maine Society of CPAs, said the challenge is likely to be more administrative than financial for most companies, particularly those that keep track of their own payroll.

“The difficulty for me is that it’s one more cost for small businesses in the state of Maine,” he said. “If you have a payroll company doing your payroll, it’s going to be a piece of cake. But if you don’t, there’s a pretty severe workload burden plus an understanding burden, in my opinion.”

Because baseball is among the industries deemed seasonal, the Portland Sea Dogs are exempt from the law for game-day staff that swells to 275 between April and September. For the 18 full-time staff, however, the law will apply.

Geoff Iacuessa, the team’s president and general manager, said the current benefit package for year-round employees already exceeds requirements of the earned paid leave.

“The way we’ve always approached it is health and family and safety come first, and (work) comes second,” he said. “If an employee needs to be home, that’s their first priority.”

As for Turner, he said the new protection leaves him feeling more secure.

“I think requiring that sort of thing keeps everybody safer,” he said. “Anyone who thinks the paid time off law isn’t essential should try lugging pails of mop water up and down stairs without the use of your right shoulder sometime, and see how that treats them.”

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