Under Md. FAMILY LAW Code Ann. § 4-501, et seq., a new category of persons eligible for relief has been added. This change by the legislature now permits “an individual who alleges that the respondent committed, within 6 months before the filing of the petition, rape or a sexual offense in any degree or attempted rape or sexual offense in any degree” to file a Petition for a Protective Order.
Previously, a person who was not related to the Respondent or did not have a sexual relationship with the Respondent could only file a Peace Order Petition which has a much shorter duration and has fewer protective remedies than a protective order.
Now a court can grant a protective order to someone who alleges that that they were a victim of another’s sexual misconduct. Accordingly, victims of alleged workplace groping or other sexual assault, for example, may file a petition for protective order against the offender. Victims of workplace sexual assault may also then force the offender to give his/her firearms for one year. By contrast, a Peace Order lasts only six months, and there is no provision for requiring the surrender of firearms.
Effective October 1, 2021, a Petition for a Peace Order may be filed by “an employer on behalf of an employee against whom abuse has been alleged”. This change comes about to address the rising tide of workplace violence. This change in the law now entitles the employer in place of an employee victimized by violence on the job site to file a petition for a peace order. This amendment thereby affords an employee unwilling to subject themselves to courtroom participation from having to file a petition to stop workplace violence. Instead, the employer is empowered to file a Petition on behalf of that employee. See, Md. COURTS AND JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS Code Ann. § 3-1501, et seq.
Numerous individuals and organizations testified before the Legislature advocating to make this change to the law. Surprisingly a number of individuals and groups in the healthcare field offered testimony in support, backed by data showing that workplace violence is statistically more likely to occur in a health care setting especially during the COVD-19 pandemic
The new law also adds protections of immunity to the employer who files on behalf of his or her employee. The new law also gives the employee protection from employer retaliation, should they choose not to participate in the proceeding.
While the changes in the law give greater protections, its application can pose risks to innocent employees who may become targets of baseless grievances by coworkers. The employer in this situation may be forced to choose sides between two employees in order to avoid legal liability if he or she fails to act.
We believe it is important for everyone in the workplace in the State of Maryland to be aware of the changes to Maryland law over Peace Orders and its ramifications for both employers and their employees.