Women’s Economic Security Act Imposes New Obligations on Minnesota Employers

On May 11, 2014, Governor Dayton signed the Women’s Economic Security Act into law.  This law significantly expands employees’ leave rights and other workplace protections, particularly for female employees.  Some of the most pertinent issues for public employers, including counties, school districts, and cities, include:

Accommodations for Pregnant Employees

  • Effective immediately, the Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees as the pregnant employee so requests, with the advice of her licensed health care provider or certified doula, unless the employer demonstrates that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.
  • A “reasonable accommodation” may include a temporary transfer of the pregnant employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position but does not require an employer to create a new or additional position or to discharge or transfer any other more senior employee or promote any employee.
  • A pregnant employee is automatically entitled to the following accommodations upon request:
    • more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks;
    • seating; and
    • limits on lifting over 20 pounds.

Expansion of Minnesota Human Rights Act protection against employment discrimination based on “familial status”

  • Effective immediately, the Act makes it a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act for an employer to discriminate against a person on the basis of their “familial status.”
  • The MHRA defines familial status as: “the condition of one or more minors being domiciled with (1) their parent or parents or the minor’s legal guardian or (2) the designee of the parent or parents or guardian with the written permission of the parent or parents or guardian. The protections afforded against discrimination on the basis of family status apply to any person who is pregnant or is in the process of securing legal custody of an individual who has not attained the age of majority.” Minn. Stat. § 363A.03, subd. 18.
  • As with other protected classes, an employer now will be prohibited from:
    • refusing to hire or unreasonably excluding a job applicant  based on familial status;
    • discharging an employee based on familial status;
    • discriminating against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities or privileges of employment based on familial status;
    • requiring or requesting a job applicant to furnish information that pertains to his or her familial status;
    • seeking or obtaining information from any source that pertains to their familial status for purposes of making a job decision; and
    • printing or publishing a notice or advertisement relating to employment which discloses a preference, limitation, or specification regarding family status.
    • Under the new Act, employers will need to be cautious about the questions they ask during interviews. An otherwise innocuous question like, “So, do you have any kids?” may now be a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Employee Wage Disclosure Protections

  • Effective August 1, an employer may not restrain an employee from disclosing or discussing wages.
  • Effective August 1, an employer must include a description of an employee’s rights regarding wage disclosure in the employee handbook; these rights are codified in Minn. Stat. § 181.172.

Facilities for Nursing Mothers

  • State law previously required employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time to an employee to express breast milk in a private room or other location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the work area.  Effective August 1, the law has been expanded to address the type of facilities that must be provided for this purpose.  Employers must now ensure that the  room or other location for a nursing mother to express milk that meets the following additional criteria:
    • The location must not be in a bathroom.
    • It must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.
    • The location must provide access to an electrical outlet.

Expanded Use of Sick Leave to Care for Relatives

  • Effective August 1, employees may now take sick leave to care for a grandchild and their spouse’s mother or father, in addition to using sick leave to care for their child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent or step-parent as statute previously allowed.  Employers should be aware that leave to care for a sick relative under state law is more expansive than leave under the FMLA.
  • An employee can now also use personal sick leave for “safety leave,” which the Act defines as “leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.”  An employee can take safety leave for the purpose of receiving assistance for themselves and for helping the relatives listed above to receive assistance.

Expanded Parenting and Pregnancy Leave under State Law

  • Effective August 1, the Act will amend state law to provide rights to parents and pregnant female employees similar to those rights presently provided to employees under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) including the following:
    • Female employees will be afforded pregnancy leave for prenatal care or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth or related health conditions in addition to birth and adoptive leave.
    • The amount of unpaid leave an employee may take for a birth, pregnancy, or adoption will be doubled from six weeks to twelve weeks.
    • The window of time for new parents to take parenting leave  will be expanded from six weeks after the birth or adoption of a child to  anytime within 12 months of the child’s birth or adoption. In the instance that a child has to stay in the hospital longer than the mother, the 12-month window within which the parent can take leave begins when the child leaves the hospital.

It is important to be aware of the Women’s Economic Security Act requirements because a violation of any of the changes listed above can expose an employer to a civil action for damages, including attorneys’ fees and injunctive relief, as well as investigative and enforcement action by the Department of Labor.  Please do not hesitate to contact Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney if you have any questions or concerns about these or any other employment law issues.