May 13, 2014

Governor Dayton Signs Women's Economic Security Act Into Law; Broad Implications for Minnesota Employers

Note: This article was updated on May 29, 2014, to include updated guidance regarding the effective date of certain provisions of the Women's Economic Security Act and to reflect certain changes made by subsequent legislation to one statute addressed in the Act.

On May 11, 2014 (Mother's Day), Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the Women's Economic Security Act into law. The Women's Economic Security Act creates or expands a broad range of legal protections for women, including significant additions or changes to Minnesota employment statutes. In addition, the Women's Economic Security Act contains several employment-related provisions that apply to both female and male employees that will have broad implications for Minnesota employers.

Minnesota employers should note, among other things, that the Women's Economic Security Act:

  1. Amends the Minnesota Human Rights Act (Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01 et seq.) to prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of "familial status," which is defined by the Minnesota Human Rights Act 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." This includes prohibiting any inquiry into a job applicant's familial status except when based on a bona fide occupational qualification. This provision became effective May 12, 2014.




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  3. Requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth if the employee makes such a request, unless the employer demonstrates that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. The new statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.9414) also prohibits the employer from retaliating against the employee for requesting or obtaining such accommodation. This provision became effective May 12, 2014.




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  5. Amends the Minnesota Parenting Leave statute (Minn. Stat. §§ 181.940 –181.941) to:
    • Change the definition of "Employee" from a person who performs services for "at least 12 consecutive months immediately preceding the request [for leave]" to a person who performs services "at least 12 months preceding the request [for leave];"
    • Expand the amount of unpaid parenting leave employers are required to provide to qualifying employees for the birth or adoption of a child from six weeks to 12 weeks;
    • In the case of parenting leave taken in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child, change the permissible start date for the leave from within six weeks after the birth or adoption to within 12 months after the birth or adoption;
    • Permit qualifying female employees to take unpaid parenting leave for prenatal care or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth or related health conditions; and
    • Permit employers to require a qualifying employee to provide reasonable notice of the date of the leave and the estimated duration of the leave.

      This provision becomes effective July 1, 2014. 
       
  6. Amends the Sick or Injured Child Care Leave statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.9413) to:
    • Permit an employee to use sick leave benefits provided by the employer for absences due to the illness of the employee's mother-in-law, father-in-law or grandchild (which is defined to include a step-grandchild);
    • Permit an employee to use sick leave benefits provided by the employer for "safety leave," which is a new type of leave for the purpose of receiving assistance or providing assistance to relatives because of "sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking;" and
    • Prohibit the employer from retaliating against an employee for requesting or obtaining a leave of absence under this statute.

      This provision becomes effective July 1, 2014.
       
  7. Amends the Nursing Mothers breaks statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.939) by:
    • Clarifying that an employer must make reasonable efforts to provide nursing mothers with a private area to express milk that is "shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet;"
    • Prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for asserting rights or remedies under this statute;
    • Creates a new civil cause of action for employees injured by a violation of this statute whereby a court may award the employee her damages and costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees, or order injunctive or other equitable relief; and
    • Authorizes the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship to receive complaints relating to this statute and investigate complaints within 10 days of receipt.

      This provision becomes effective July 1, 2014. 
       
  8. Provides employees with new rights and remedies regarding their ability to disclose their wages to others. Specifically, this new statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.172):
    • Prohibits employers from:
      • Requiring an employee not to disclose his/her wages as a condition of employment;
      • Requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other document which purports to deny an employee the right to disclose the employee's wages;
      • Taking any adverse employment action against an employee for disclosing the employee's own wages or discussing another employee's wages which have been disclosed voluntarily; or
      • Retaliating against an employee for asserting such rights.
    • Creates a new civil cause of action for certain violations of this statute for which a court may order reinstatement, back pay, restoration of lost service credit, expungement of any related adverse records of an employee, injunctive or other equitable relief, and award the employee his/her costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees;
    • Requires an employer that provides an employee handbook to its employees to include in the handbook a notice of the employee's rights and remedies under this law; and
    • Authorizes the Department of Labor and Industry Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship to receive and investigate complaints relating to this law.

      This provision becomes effective July 1, 2014. 
       
  9. Expands the existing "domestic abuse" quit and misconduct exceptions related to eligibility for unemployment benefits to also permit a worker to obtain unemployment benefits when:
    • He/she quits his/her employment because of "sexual assault" or "stalking" of the worker or an immediate family member; or
    • He/she engages in conduct that may otherwise constitute unemployment misconduct if the conduct was a consequence of the worker (or an immediate family member) being the victim of "sexual assault" or "stalking."

      This provision becomes effective October 5, 2014.
       
  10. Subject to certain limited exceptions, prohibits the state and its agencies from entering into any contract for goods or services or an agreement for goods or services in excess of $500,000 with a business that has 40 or more full-time employees in Minnesota or the state it has its primary place of business, unless the business has an equal pay certificate obtained from the Commissioner of Human Rights or has certified that it is exempt.  Any such equal pay certificate is valid for four years. This provision becomes effective August 1, 2014.  Among the various appropriations made by the bill, the bill provides a total of more than $1.5 million over the next three fiscal years to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to implement this equal pay certificate program.

In light of these significant changes to Minnesota law, Minnesota employers should revisit their existing policies and practices. For example, the Women's Economic Security Act requires that Minnesota employers take certain affirmative actions in order to comply with Minnesota law, including making certain changes to existing employee handbooks. Some Minnesota employers may also need to make changes to their policies relating to parenting leave, equal employment opportunity and workplace accommodations. Employers should consult with their legal counsel to bring their policies and practices into compliance with the new requirements imposed by the Women's Economic Security Act and to consider other potential implications of the Women's Security Act.

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