Shawe Rosenthal's Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella speaks candidly about human resource laws and work-life balance.
Always active in the Maryland Chamber, Torphy-Donzella is an accomplished member of the executive committee.
REPLY ALL | Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella
Partner, Shawe Rosenthal, LLP
Maryland Chamber General Counsel & executive committee member
What are the most common challenges you find businesses have when it comes to compliance with changing or evolving HR policies?
Keeping up with the changes. This is particularly challenging for multi-state employers.
In addition, for Maryland-based companies, dealing with Montgomery county and Prince George’s county specific laws is really difficult. They may have employees who work part of the week in one of those counties and the rest of the week outside the county.
So, things like county-specific minimum wage and sick leave mandates get really difficult.
What are the biggest challenges you are seeing businesses face with compliance with HB1 or the mandatory paid leave law?
Probably the biggest overall challenge for employers that already have paid leave plans is that they are not compliant with the law simply because they have paid leave. This comes as a big surprise to many companies.
Prior to the sick and safe leave law, or SSL, many companies implemented paid time off plans, or PTO, instead of separate sick, vacation and personal time which allows employees to manage their leave as they see fit.
Most provide a lot more leave than the SSL law requires.
The challenge now is that employers have to find a way to report each pay period what amount of the PTO is available for SSL uses. This is required by the law. For example, if an employee has 160 hours of PTO but only 40 hours are SSL, the employer has to separate this out. But most HR systems cannot easily generate this information—even many payroll companies can’t do it yet.
Employers also have existing rules for how leave accrues, what leave, if any, carries from one year to the next and what notice of use must be given. The SSL law has very different and more restrictive rules. Companies are finding it difficult to administer their leave policies and still comply with this law.
Finally, because an employer can’t require employees to provide verification that the leave was legitimately used unless an employee misses three consecutive shifts, some of my clients are seeing a big uptick in unplanned leave use. Given that these companies already provided more than ample paid time off, this suggests leave abuse.
What are ways that businesses can become more knowledgeable on changing laws and policies that could potentially affect their businesses?
Having a relationship with a law firm that keeps up on the laws is a good way to ensure that your company is up to date on what’s new.
Shawe Rosenthal is very proactive in updating our clients. In addition to electronic updates, we contact clients individually to make sure that they know of new obligations, like when the sick leave law became effective, 30 days after it was enacted.
Similarly, the Maryland Chamber involves businesses in their advocacy during our legislative session to try to give lawmakers information on how the proposed legal mandates will actually impact real businesses.
Many of my clients definitely wish they had taken the sick leave law more seriously before it was enacted and made their voices heard.
Finally, becoming a member of the Society for Human Resource Management offers a ton of resources for compliance. The local chapters also provide information on local legal changes.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have received and adhere to in either your professional or personal life?
Treat others as you wish to be treated. If you treat others with respect, they typically will reciprocate.
Civility goes a long way in making professional life more satisfying and it also tends, in law, to make legal disputes less costly.
Your reputation is the most valuable asset that you have in life. Repairing a reputation can be incredibly difficult. Try to always act in a manner that will sustain your good name.
As a working parent, how have you been able to balance work and home life?
I am a very client focused person and always fulfill my obligations to my clients. I also am deeply committed to my family and being present for them.
Sometimes balancing it is tough. Having a husband who is a full partner has been key. We do not have defined roles (although he is the main cook because he loves food). We share all of the household obligations and we both have been actively involved with our raising our daughter.
As Barbara Bush once said in a speech,
“At the end of your life, you never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”