Advocacy: Testimony in opposition to LD 553: An Act to End At-Will Employment
Testimony in opposition to LD 553: An Act to End At-Will Employment
March 24, 2021
Senator Craig Hickman, Chair and the Committee on Labor and Housing, my name is Deb Neuman and I serve as the President and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. I am providing comment on behalf of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
By way of background, our chamber serves 21 communities representing 674 members with 29,685 employees. Our membership includes hospitality, retail and restaurants, manufacturing, service businesses, healthcare, financial and educational institutions and more.
This bill is concerning as it prohibits an employer from terminating the employment of an employee without cause. The bill specifies that an employer may terminate an employee for cause only after applying a 3-step progressive discipline policy and providing notice of termination in accordance with certain requirements.
Given there are already a number of Maine laws that protect employees from wrongful termination this bill goes too far by making it extremely difficult to terminate an employee with or without cause while also causing the employer undue hardship.
Our interpretation of the bill means that an employer could not terminate an employee who has been accused of harassment by another employee, is inappropriate or violent in the workplace, creates a hostile work environment, causes a safety issue or simply does not show up, without following the three steps and then only after the final written warning (the fourth violation). Further, will employers who hire seasonal workers be able to lay them off after the season? Will they too be required to follow the three progressive discipline steps as outlined in the bill?
The bill states, “An employer may terminate an employee for cause only if the employer has followed a progressive discipline policy except that if an employee has violated any state law.” Who determines if the employee has broken a state law and will the employer have to wait for a conviction before they can terminate their employment?
This means that problem employees will remain in the workplace longer than they should, potentially affecting other employees who may decide to leave their place of employment as a result. This bill may end up protecting and benefiting some of the most problematic and unproductive employees at the expense of our best employees.
In addition to this bill inhibiting a timely removal of a problem employee, employers sometimes need to react and adjust their workforce quickly to adapt to external factors including competition, lack of orders, seasonality, and pandemics in order to remain viable and competitive.
The bill also lacks specificity as to the timing of these progressive steps. If an employer has to remove an employee quickly to protect their workplace, it’s feasible they could initiate these progressive discipline steps all in one day.
Our best employers in Maine, and they are the majority, work hard to onboard, train, support and retain their employees. They already have processes and procedures in place to address issues with employees, but sometimes termination is necessary for the reasons stated above.
In addition, the state of Maine and the federal government already provide a variety of protections for employees, which limits an employer’s right to discharge. These include the Maine Human Rights Act, the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Whistle Blowers’ Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, there are protections found under the National Labor Relations Act and the federal Civil Rights Act.
If the legislature feels compelled to intervene in the employee-employer relationship, we respectfully suggest you focus on the beginning of that relationship by filling the skills gaps and catalyzing ways to get people who have exited the workforce back into it and work to attract more potential workers to our state. Maine businesses need your support to be more competitive, efficient and profitable, not less. That will go a long way to keeping existing businesses here, attract new business and create more jobs for Mainers.
We appreciate your careful and thoughtful consideration of this bill and the added burden it will have on Maine businesses that are already facing workforce and pandemic related challenges. Thank you.