Focus on New Laws: Women’s Economic Security Act

An increase in leave for pregnancy and parenting as well as an expansion of sick leave benefits will go into effect July 1, 2014.
(Published Jun 30, 2014)

The 2014 Legislature passed a package of bills known as the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) aimed at eliminating barriers to economic progress faced by women. Chapter 239 includes workplace protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers, expands the use of sick time benefits, and adds “familial status” to the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Gov. Dayton signed the act into law on Mother’s Day—May 11, 2014. See below for effective dates for provisions impacting cities.

Effective as of May 12, 2014

Pregnancy accommodations
WESA includes a new section of law, Minnesota Statutes, section 181.9414, requiring an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth if the employee so requests. An employer may obtain advice of the employee’s licensed health care provider or certified doula regarding the requested pregnancy accommodations.

The accommodations must be made unless the employer demonstrates the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. The following are not considered an undue hardship, and an employer may not obtain advice from the employee’s licensed health care provider or certified doula for: more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks; seating; and limits on lifting over 20 pounds.

An employer is not required to create a new or additional position in order to accommodate a pregnant employee nor shall an employer require an employee to take leave or accept an accommodation.

Familial status
WESA amends the Unfair Discriminatory Practices Relating to Employment or Unfair Employment Practice section of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (Minnesota Statutes, section 363A.08). It adds “familial status” to the list of protected classes an employer, employment agency, or labor organization must not discriminate against.

"Familial status" means 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.

Effective July 1, 2014

Nursing mothers
The law amends Minnesota Statutes, section 181.939 to require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, where the employee can express milk privately. It must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public and include access to an electrical outlet.

Pregnancy and parenting leave
Currently, an employer with 21 or more employees must grant an unpaid leave of absence to an employee who is a new biological or adoptive parent. Effective July 1, 2014, an employer must allow for parenting leave in addition to pregnancy leave.

Employers must now grant leave for 12 (instead of six) weeks for pregnancy, birth, or adoption. The unpaid leave of absence must be granted to a biological or adoptive parent in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child, or to a female employee for prenatal care or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions.

The start of leave must begin within 12 months of the birth or adoption, which is an increase from six weeks. The length of the leave shall be determined by the employee, but must not exceed 12 weeks, unless agreed to by the employer. An employer is allowed to require reasonable notice of the date the leave will begin and the estimated duration of the leave. The law clarifies paid parental, disability, personal, medical, accrued sick or vacation leave, as well as applicable Family Medical Leave is included within the total 12 weeks, unless otherwise agreed to by the employer.

The law will now mirror federal law by deleting a prior reference to 12 “consecutive” months with respect to qualified employees. The law now requires that a qualified employee must perform services for at least 12 months preceding the request and work for an average number of hours per week equal to one-half the full-time equivalent position in the employee’s job classification.

Sick and safe time leave benefit
Also effective July 1, 2014, WESA adds “mother-in-law,” “father-in-law,” and “grandchild” to the list of relatives (including adult children, spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, and stepparents) an employee may use personal sick leave benefits to provide care for. Sick time may also be used for “safety leave” for the employee or relatives listed to provide or receive assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.

Employers must provide at least 160 hours for personal sick or safety leave in any 12-month period for all covered relatives, but the 160-hour limit cannot be imposed on time used to care for the employee themselves or the employee’s child(ren).

Effective Oct. 5, 2014

Modifying unemployment insurance eligibility in cases of sexual assault and stalking
The law amends Minnesota Statutes, section 268.095, subdivision 1 to add “sexual assault” and “stalking” to the list of reasons (which includes domestic abuse) for which an employee cannot be determined ineligible for unemployment insurance if they quit due to said reason. Subdivision 6 of the same section also adds “sexual assault” victimization and “stalking” victimization to the list of behaviors exhibited by an employee, which also currently includes victimization by domestic abuse, that do not constitute misconduct.

If an employee engages in conduct that may otherwise constitute unemployment misconduct, but the conduct was a consequence of the worker (or an immediate family member) being the victim of sexual assault or stalking, they cannot be determined ineligible for unemployment benefits. This amendment is effective Oct. 5, 2014, and applies to determinations and appeal decisions issued on or after that date.

The League has modified the Personnel Policies Template to incorporate these changes.

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