Effective October 1, 2022, Maryland Senate Bill 450 (SB 450) revised the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace for Maryland employees and employers. Before this new law, the State of Maryland followed the federal definitions of “harassment” and “sexual harassment.” The federal standards under the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act required an employee prove that the harassment was “severe or pervasive.” A severe or pervasive standard is often a much higher bar than employees typically expect. Under this federal standard, fleeting sexual remarks might not rise to a level of legally actionable sexual harassment.
SB 450 lowered the bar to prove harassment or sexual harassment in Maryland. Now “sexual harassment” includes conduct, which need not be severe or pervasive, that consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other conduct of a sexual nature when:
(1) Submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment of an individual;
(2) Submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting the individual; or
(3) Based on the totality of the circumstances, the conduct unreasonably creates a working environment that a reasonable person would perceive to be abusive or hostile.
The new law applies to sexual harassment cases that occur in a Maryland workplace. This new “totality of the circumstances” standard looks to whether a reasonable person would perceive the working environment as abusive or hostile. This new standard expands the scope of conduct which helps to support a claim of sexual harassment. This will potentially lead to an increase of viable sexual harassment claims.