Best & Flanagan

 

Employment & Labor Law Alert: Women’s Economic Security Act Sets New Workplace Requirements for Employers

May 22, 2014
(Updated June 4, 2014, to reflect July 1, 2014, effective date of some provisions.)

Minnesota employers should review and update workplace policies to ensure compliance with a range of new mandates and protections set out in the Women’s Economic Security Act (“WESA”), which Governor Dayton signed into law on May 11, 2014.

The Act affects a wide variety of workplace conditions and rules. Some of its provisions have already gone into effect. These include:

  • Reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related health conditions.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who request accommodation for health conditions related to their pregnancy unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship to the employer. Determination of whether a particular accommodation is an undue hardship can be complicated, and we encourage you to contact us before declining a request for accommodation based on undue hardship. The Act expressly prohibits employers from challenging the following accommodations if requested by an employee: (1) to be allowed to sit while working; (2) to take more frequent breaks to eat, drink or use the restroom; or (3) to avoid lifting more than 20 pounds.

Who must comply: Employers with 21 or more employees.

  • Prohibition against discrimination based on “familial status.”

WESA added “familial status” to the list of characteristics protected by the Minnesota Human Rights Act. This addition prohibits employers from refusing to hire, discharging, or discriminating against an employee because the employee has one or more children living at his or her home.

Who must comply: Employers with at least one employee.

Other provisions of WESA take effect on July 1, 2014. These include:

  • Broader and longer leave for the birth or adoption of a child and for pregnancy.

WESA modifies the current parenting leave laws and requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (up from the current six week requirement) to qualified employees following the birth or adoption of a child. In addition, WESA requires employers to provide female employees with a total of twelve weeks for prenatal care and for leave required because the employee is incapacitated due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions.

Who must comply: Employers with 21 or more employees.

  • Broader use of sick leave, including for employees who need to receive help because of domestic or sexual assault.

Employees will be able to use personal sick leave benefits for “safety leave,” which is defined as leave needed by the employee in order to receive help because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking, or to assist a close relative who needs such help. Employees also will be able to use sick leave for absences due to an illness of or injury to a parent-in-law or grandchild, in addition to the relatives previously listed in state law (spouses, minor and adult children, siblings, parents, grandparents, and stepparents).

Who must comply: Employers with 21 or more employees.

  • Wage disclosure protections.

Under the Act, employers may not prohibit an employee from disclosing his or her wages to coworkers, and may not take action against an employee who discloses to coworkers how much he or she earned.

Who must comply: Employers with at least one employee.

  • Protections for nursing mothers.

Under existing law, employers must make reasonable efforts to make a room or other location available to nursing mothers who need to express breast milk. Under the Act, employers will be required to provide more privacy for the space and an electrical outlet.

Who must comply: Employers with at least one employee.

(Please note that the initial version of this Alert said that the July 1 provisions will take effect on August 1. The July 1 effective date results from the fact that in addition to the new workplace protections, WESA appropriates state funds for grants and other purposes.)

In addition to the above, WESA will:

  • extend unemployment benefits to employees who quit work because of sexual assault or domestic abuse committed against the employee or an immediate family member;
  • require companies with more than 40 employees to certify that the average compensation for female employees is not consistently less than male counterparts before the company may receive a state contract exceeding $500,000; and
  • provide for a range of grants aimed to increase the number of women in high-wage, high-demand professions.

Several federal and state employment and anti-discrimination statutes apply to Minnesota employers, in addition to WESA. Determining which laws apply to workplace issues and how employers should respond to requests from employees is often complex and dependent on factors that may not be obvious. The Best & Flanagan Labor & Employment practice group invites questions from employers about WESA and any other workplace issue. For more information, contact Sarah Crippen (612.341.9733, scrippen@bestlaw.com).

Best & Flanagan