Women’s Economic Security Act Signed into Law

The package contains several employment-related bills aimed at increasing economic security and advancement for women.
(Published May 12, 2014)

The Women’s Economic Security Act, (HF 2536), authored by Sen. Sandra Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), passed the Senate by a vote of 43-24 on May 8. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law (Chapter 239) on May 11.

Provisions impacting public employers include:

Familial status
The bill extends the protected class of “familial status” to employment practices in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. This would prohibit an employer from discriminating against employees due to their familial status, which 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.” The intent of this language is to ensure that those with familial status are not discriminated against for career advancement opportunities, promotions, and hiring and firing practices. This does not require special treatment regarding performance.

Nursing mothers
The bill would require an employer to make reasonable efforts to provide a room other than a bathroom that is shielded from view, free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, and that has access to an electrical outlet. An employer may not retaliate against an employee for asserting rights or remedies under this section.

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 parent (natural or adoptive). Under the new bill, pregnant employees would also be allowed to take this unpaid leave for prenatal care or incapacity due to pregnancy or childbirth or a related condition. This proposed change would increase leave from six to 12 weeks for both pregnant employees and new parents. It also adds language that allows the employer to require reasonable notice of the date the leave will begin and the estimated duration of the leave.

Sick leave benefits
The bill adds “mother-in-law,” “father-in-law,” and “grandchild” to the list of relatives an employee may use personal sick leave benefits to provide care for. Additionally, an employee would be able to use sick leave as “safety leave” if used for the purpose of “providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.”

Pregnancy accommodations
The bill would create new language entitled “Pregnancy Accommodations,” requiring covered employers to provide accommodations such as additional restroom breaks, more frequent access to drinking water and food, and limits on physical movements such as heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, and standing to employees for “medical or physical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” It may include the transfer of a pregnant female employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position for the duration of pregnancy if such transfer can be reasonably accommodated, but clarifies that the employer does not have to create additional employment to meet this requirement. Nor does the employer have to transfer any employee with more seniority or promote any employee not qualified to do the job in order to meet this requirement. Finally, this section prohibits retaliation against an employee for requesting or obtaining accommodations under this section.

Relationship to other leave
The bill allows employers to reduce the period of leave required under this bill by any paid leave or leave required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so that the total does not exceed 12 weeks. This is a change from current law, which does not allow an employer to reduce the leave by accrued sick leave. In some situations, the previous language might have allowed an employee to take more than 12 weeks by combining FMLA and the Minnesota Parenting Leave Law. The new language will make it clear that only 12 weeks are required even if the employee is eligible for both state and federal leave.

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