Minnesota: Time Off and Benefits and Leaves, Oh My!

by Shelby Felton, Esq. - Director and Product Compliance Counsel

& Marti Cardi, Esq. - Senior Compliance Consultant and Legal Counsel,

& Lana L. Rupprecht, Esq. - AVP, Product Compliance

June 07, 2023

 

The Minnesota legislature was very busy this session paving the yellow brick road with leave options for life's various journeys. Reliance Matrix is here to provide a summary to help you and your employees navigate your way while avoiding lions, and tigers, and bears.

Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

On May 25, 2023, Governor Walz (the great and powerful wizard wasn't available) signed the Minnesota Paid Family and Medical Leave (MN PFML) program into law. Minnesota is the 12th state (and the first state in the Midwest) to enact mandatory PFML legislation. On top of that, there are 2 more jurisdictions that have mandatory disability benefits but no paid family leave and 2 that have voluntary PFML programs.

Under this new law, employers (private and public) will be required to provide eligible employees (those who have earned at least 5.3% of the state average annual wage and excluding some seasonal employees) with paid leave for:

  • the employee's own serious health condition, including pregnancy,
  • caring for a family member with a serious health condition,
  • bonding after the birth or placement of a child,
  • exigent circumstances related to a family member's military service or caring for a military family member, or
  • addressing domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking of the employee or the employee's family member.

Benefits begin January 1, 2026. Employees may take 12 weeks of medical leave and 12 weeks of family leave up to a 20-week limit in a 12-month period. The pay benefits are based on a tiered formula with a minimum of $50 per week and a maximum equal to the state's average weekly wage. Employees are also guaranteed job protection after 90 days of employment.

The law includes an expanded definition of family member to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and Auntie Em, the Munchkins, and Glinda The Good Witch (otherwise known as "an individual who has a relationship with the applicant that creates an expectation and reliance that the applicant care for the individual, whether or not the applicant and the individual reside together.").

The program is mandatory and will be administered by the state with an option for self-funded or fully insured private plans. Funding for the state plan will be provided initially by the state's general fund and then by payroll premiums which may be paid evenly between employers and employees. The premiums begin on January 1, 2026. The annual premium rate will not exceed 1.2% of taxable wages. There are also different premium provisions for employers with fewer than 30 employees.

Employers have time to get ready for this law since the tornado of contributions and benefits do not start until 2026. This is one of the messiest leave law bills we have ever seen. We will be clicking our ruby slippers and hoping for more guidance from the state in the future, so stay tuned.

Omnibus Jobs Bill

The MN Omnibus Jobs Bill dropped like a swirling house on a witch, covering as many employment-related laws as there are lollipops in Munchkin Land. Among other things, the Bill increases pregnancy accommodation rights, expands rights for lactating employees, extends unpaid parental leave protections, and adds a sick and safe leave law for MN employees. The changes in the law relating to pregnancy accommodation, parental leave and lactation will become effective July 1, 2023. The safe and sick leave provisions are effective January 1, 2024.

Pregnancy Accommodations

Minnesota's current pregnancy accommodation laws were revised under the Omnibus Jobs Bill to cover employers with one or more employees rather than 15 or more employees.

It also lists the following examples of additional modifications as reasonable accommodations:

  • More frequent or longer restroom, food, and water breaks PLUS no undue hardship defense if these specific accommodations are requested,
  • Temporary leaves of absence,
  • Modification in work schedule or job assignments, and
  • More frequent or longer break periods.

These examples are in addition to the accommodations already identified under the current law which include: the temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, seating, and limits to heavy lifting. The law still provides that an employer is not required to "create a new or additional position in order to accommodate an employee" and may not, in order to comply with this act, "discharge an employee, transfer another employee with greater seniority, or promote an employee."

Lactation

Minnesota law already requires employers to provide reasonable break times each day to employees who need to express milk. These times do not need to run concurrently with break times otherwise provided by the employer. But, beginning July 1, 2023, benefits available to lactating employees will no longer expire 12 months after birth. There will be no time limit.

Also, beginning July 1, 2023, employers may not refuse to provide breaks to lactating employees even if doing so would "unduly disrupt" the employer's business.

The location mothers are given to express milk cannot be a bathroom and must be in close proximity to the work area. The new law clarifies that the location must also be "clean, private & secure," unlike the wicked witch's castle.

Notice Relating to Lactation and Pregnancy Accommodation and Retaliation

Employers are required to provide notice to employees of their rights for lactation and pregnancy accommodation both at the time of hire and when an employee requests or makes an inquiry about parental leave. If an employer has a handbook, this notice must also be included there as well. The state of MN is expected to have sample notices available as well.

Although the current version of the law contains a prohibition on retaliation against employees who take lactation breaks and/or request pregnancy accommodations, the updated law will include the following additional prohibited (and wicked) activities: "discharge, discipline, penalize, interfere with, threaten, restrain, coerce or otherwise retaliate or discriminate against..."

Unpaid Parental Leave

MN's existing Parental Leave Law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new parents within 12 months of birth (or of the date the baby is released from the hospital) or adoption.

Beginning July 1, 2023, the scope of covered employees and covered employers both expand. There will be no length of service or average hours worked eligibility requirements for employees to take MN Parental Leave. All employers who have one or more employees are covered (as opposed to 21 or more employees under the current law). Similar to the accommodation and lactation amendments, the new law expands upon the retaliation provisions contained in the current statute to make it unlawful to: "discharge, discipline, penalize, interfere with, threaten, restrain, coerce or otherwise retaliate or discriminate against" an employee for requesting or obtaining parental leave.

Earned Safe and Sick Time

Beginning January 1, 2024, employers will be required to allow the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, also known as eligible employees (those who perform work for at least 80 hours in a year in MN) to accrue one hour of sick and safe time (ESST) for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of 48 hours per year. Employees may use ESST in the following circumstances:

  • An employee's own illness or health condition, medical diagnosis, care or treatment or preventative care,
  • Care for a family member due to the family member's illness or health condition, medical diagnosis, care or treatment or preventative care,
  • Domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking of the employee or the employee's family member,
  • Closure of the employee's business or a family members' school or place of care due to weather or public emergency,
  • Health concerns related to the potential transmission of a communicable illness related to a public emergency, seeking or awaiting the results of a diagnostic test for, or a medical diagnosis of, a communicable disease related to a public emergency (after exposure), or
  • Determination by health authorities of exposure to a communicable disease by the employee or a family member

"Family member" is quite broad and includes children, spouse, registered domestic partner, sibling (including step and foster), parents (including foster, step, adoptive and a person who stood in loco parentis), grandchildren (including step and foster), grandparents (including step) a child of the sibling of an employee, a sibling of the parents of the employee, child-in-law, sibling in law and any individual "related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship." An employee may also designate one individual annually who will be considered a "family member."

Employees will be able to carry this time over each year, but it can be capped at 80 hours and, unless an employer's policy states otherwise, employers will not be required to pay out earned and unused ESST upon separation from employment. Employers may, alternatively, adopt a frontloading approach where employees get a lump sum of ESST at the beginning of each year or at the beginning of employment.

Like the other laws discussed above, employers may not "discharge, discipline, penalize, interfere with, threaten, restrain, coerce, or otherwise retaliate or discriminate against" employees exercising their rights associated with ESST. Employers must also post a notice to employees of their rights under this act, a model of which is to be prepared by the MN Department of Labor.

Reliance Matrix Can Help!

Better than any wizard or good witch, Reliance Matrix offers state leave administration services to help employers get through the spooky forest of paid leaves and the poppy field of unpaid and earned leaves all while avoiding flying monkeys. For more information, contact your Reliance Matrix account manager or send us a message to [email protected].

Reliance Matrix is a branding name. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company (Home Office Schaumburg, IL) is licensed in all states (except New York), the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. First Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company (Home Office New York, NY) is licensed in New York and Delaware. Standard Security Life Insurance Company of New York (Home Office New York, NY) is licensed in all states. Absence services are provided by Matrix Absence Management, Inc. (Home Office Phoenix, AZ).

Through its insurance and administrative services entities, Reliance Matrix offers integrated leave management services involving the FMLA, state-mandated paid family and medical leave and accommodation solutions. Product features and availability may vary by state. For more information, please contact your Reliance Matrix account manager, or reach us at [email protected].