Minnesota’s New Women’s Economic Security Act

05/16/2014 / Phyllis Karasov

The article as originally published on May 12, 2014 was based upon a version of the statute ‎which was different from the bill actually signed into law by Governor Dayton last weekend.  ‎This updated article replaces that original summary of the bill.‎

The new Women’s Economic Security Act signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton will have significant impact on Minnesota employers, creating a new protected class of employees and more administrative responsibility and paperwork.
 
The new law contains a variety of provisions intended to protect women from discrimination, encourage women in nontraditional high wage jobs, help women-owned small businesses succeed, and expand family and sick leave for working families. The act comprises 9 different bills and is the first in the nation to address many of these topics.
 
The act creates additional obligations for employers doing business in the state of Minnesota and most of the provisions are effective immediately unless a different date is reflected below. We recommend that employers, with the assistance of legal counsel, take the following actions in light of this comprehensive and groundbreaking new law:

  1. Review all employee handbooks and personnel policies and make necessary changes to ensure that such handbooks, manuals and policies conform to the new requirements of the act.
  2. Add familial status as a protected class in Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action policies.
  3. Review the locations where nursing mothers are allowed to nurse or express breast milk to ensure that they contain the new requirements for such locations.
  4. If an employer intends to contract with a state department or agency, begin to collect the data which will be necessary to submit to the Commissioner of the Department of Human Rights in order to obtain an Equal Pay Certificate of Compliance.
  5. Revise written leave policies to include the changes to the Minnesota Parenting Act.
  6. If an employer offers paid sick time, revise its written sick leave policy to add the new circumstances under which an employee can use paid sick time.
  7. Train all supervisors and managers concerning the new protected classes, the obligation to accommodate pregnancy, the fact that employees are eligible for up to twelve weeks of parenting leave, and the additional circumstance under which an employee may use personal sick leave benefits.
A brief explanation of the changes in the law resulting from this groundbreaking law follows.
 
Minnesota Parenting Act
 
The Minnesota Parenting Act is (now known as Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act) amended to increase the amount of leave from six weeks to twelve weeks and to add pregnancy to the existing eligibility criteria, which are birth or adoption of a child. A pregnant employee who plans to take a leave under this statute must give the employer reasonable notice of the date the leave will commence and the estimated duration of the leave.
 
Paid Sick Leave
  • The statute which permits using personal sick leave benefits for absences due to an illness of or injury to an employee’s child is amended to permit use of such personal sick leave benefits for absences due to an illness of or injury to the employee’s mother-in-law, father-in-law and grandchild or step grandchild. This statute already permits an employee to use personal sick leave for absences due to an illness of or injury to the employee’s child (including stepchild or foster child), adult child, spouse, sibling, grandparent, or step-parent.
  • An employee can use personal sick leave benefits for “safety leave.” Safety leave can be used for assistance to the employee or assistance to certain relatives because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.
Pregnancy Accommodation
 
The sick leave benefit statute is further amended to require that an employer provide reasonable accommodation for an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.
  • “Reasonable accommodation” includes, but is not limited to: seating, frequent food, water and restroom breaks, and limits on lifting over 20 pounds or a temporary transfer of a pregnant female employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position.
The nursing mothers statute is amended to require an employer to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location in close proximity to the work area that is shielded from view and free from intrusion and that includes access to an electrical outlet.

Minnesota Human Rights Act
 
A new protected class is created for familial status. ”Familial status” means the condition of one or more minors being domiciled with:
  • their parent or parents or the minor’s legal guardian or
  • the designee of the parent or parents or guardian with the written permission of the parent or guardian.
Therefore, it is now illegal to discriminate against an employee because of his or her familial status.  Employers are also prohibited from asking about an applicant’s family status during the hiring process.

Nondisclosure of Wages

An employer is prohibited from:
  • requiring nondisclosure by an employee of the employee’s wages as a condition of employment;
  • requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other documents which purports to deny an employee the right to disclose the employees’ wage; or
  • taking any adverse employment action against an employee for disclosing an employee’s own wages or discussing another employee’s wages which have been disclosed voluntarily.
Employers who use employee handbooks should revise those handbooks immediately.  Under the new law, any employer who provides a handbook to employees must include in the handbook a notice of employee’s rights and remedies under this section of the law.
 
Equal Pay Certificate of Compliance
 
No Minnesota department or agency can execute a contract in excess of $500,000 with a business that has 50 or more full-time employees in the state of Minnesota or in a state where the business has its primary place of business, unless the business has an Equal Pay Certificate of Compliance. The certificate is issued by the Commissioner of the Department of Human Rights upon submission by an employer of a statement signed by CEO or chair of board that says:
  • the business is in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and the Minnesota Equal Pay for Equal Work Law;
  • the business does not restrict employees of one sex to certain job classifications and makes retention and promotion of employees without regard to sex; and
  • the average compensation for its female employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male employee within each of the major job categories in the EEO-1 Employee Information Report for which an employee is expected to perform work under the contract, taking into account factors such as length of service, requirements of specific jobs, experience, skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions of the job, or other mitigating factors.
As a condition of receiving a certificate, the business must agree that the commissioner may audit the business’ compliance with this section and that certain information will be submitted to the commissioner in connection with such audit. If the commissioner determines that a business that has a certificate is not in compliance with the requirements then the commissioner can require the business to implement a plan to remedy the noncompliance as a condition of retaining its certificate of compliance. The commissioner can suspend or revoke a certificate.  The statute describes certain procedures that must be followed in order to void a contract in connection with the certificate.
 
This section is effective August 1, 2014, and applies to a contract for which a state department or agency issues a solicitation on or after that date.
 
Unemployment Compensation Act
  • The exceptions to the definition of employment misconduct have been amended to include conduct that was a consequence of the applicant, or an immediate family member of the applicant, being a victim of sexual assault or stalking.
  • The definition of quit because of a “good reason caused by the employer” which allows an employee who quit employment to be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits is amended to allow for an applicant to quit because of sexual assault or stalking of the applicant or an immediate family member.
These changes are effective October 5, 2014, and apply to all determinations and appeal decisions issued on or after that date.
 
There are many questions arising from the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act.  Employers with questions concerning implementation of this new law should contact Phyllis Karasov or one of Larkin Hoffman’s other employment attorneys.