On Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the Women’s Economic Security Act, providing a variety of new protections and remedies for employees and new requirements for Minnesota employers. Some of the key changes made by the Act are described below. You can access the full text of the Act here.

Protections for nursing mothers

In addition to the existing provisions found in Minn. Stat. s. 181.939 requiring reasonable accommodations for nursing women, all employers now must ensure that such accommodations include a truly private area with access to an electrical outlet. Further, retaliation against an employee for insisting on nursing accommodations is now expressly forbidden, and violations of section 181.939 must be investigated by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship. Finally, anyone injured by a violation now has a private civil right of action to sue for damages, including reasonable attorney fees (see new statute Minn. Stat. s. 181.944).

Additional requirements for larger employers

Employers subject to Minn. Stat. s. 181.941—mainly employers with at least 21 employees at a single location—must now provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave to employees instead of at least 6 weeks. These employers also are subject to new reasonable-accommodation requirements for pregnancy and childbirth. What’s a reasonable accommodation? New statute Minn. Stat. s. 181.9414 provides an out for employers who can demonstrate “undue hardship,” however it also provides that:

A pregnant employee shall not be required to obtain the advice of her licensed health care provider or certified doula, nor may an employer claim undue hardship for the following accommodations:

    1. more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks;
    2. seating; and
    3. limits on lifting over 20 pounds.

The employee and employer shall engage in an interactive process with respect to an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation. “Reasonable accommodation” may include, but is not limited to, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, seating, frequent restroom breaks, and limits to heavy lifting. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, an employer shall not be required to create a new or additional position in order to accommodate an employee pursuant to this section, and shall not be required to discharge any employee, transfer any other employee with greater seniority, or promote any employee.

As with the accommodations for nursing mothers, employer retaliation is expressly forbidden and an injured employee has a private right of action and the ability to recover attorney fees.

Protection against discrimination based on familial status

Discrimination based on familial status has been added to the list of unfair employment practices in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The change is reflected in Minn. Stat. 363A.08, subd. 2, as shown underlined below:

Except when based on a bona fide occupational qualification, it is an unfair employment practice for an employer, because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, familial status, membership or activity in a local commission, disability, sexual orientation, or age to:

  1. refuse to hire or to maintain a system of employment which unreasonably excludes a person seeking employment; or
  2. discharge an employee; or
  3. discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment.

As before, the Human Rights Commissioner has enforcement responsibilities under this act, and private parties may also bring suit at certain times after certain actions by the Commissioner, recovering both damages and attorney fees (see Minn. Stat. s. 363A.33).

Equal-pay certificates required for large employers seeking state contracts

Unless certain exemptions apply, under new statute Minn. Stat. 363A.44, businesses with more than 50 employees who seek state contracts worth $500,000 or more must now first get an “equal pay certificate” certifying all of the following:

  1. that the business is in compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Pay Act of 1963, Minnesota Human Rights Act, and Minnesota Equal Pay for Equal Work Law;
  2. that the average compensation for its female employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male employees 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;
  3. that the business does not restrict employees of one sex to certain job classifications and makes retention and promotion decisions without regard to sex;
  4. that wage and benefit disparities are corrected when identified to ensure compliance with the laws cited in clause (1) and with clause (2); and
  5. how often wages and benefits are evaluated to ensure compliance with the laws cited in clause (1) and with clause

The statute also includes various enforcement mechanisms including state audits.

Employee right to discuss salary information

Finally, under new statute Minn. Stat. s. 181.172, with certain exceptions, employers may no longer prevent employees from discussing their own salaries or those of other employees who have voluntarily disclosed salary information. This statute also forbids retaliation and creates a private right of action for an injured employee to sue.

This article was written by attorney Luke Thompson.

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