Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act begins to take effect

The new Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA)—an amalgamation of changes designed to “close the gender gap” by breaking down barriers to economic progress for women—has begun to take effect. Governor Mark Dayton signed WESA into law on Mother’s Day earlier this month. Some of the changes were “effective upon enactment,” which means they went into effect on May 11, 2014, while others won’t go into effect until August 1, 2014.

Provisions already in effect

  • New pregnancy accommodations required. WESA provides that “an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth if she so requests . . . unless the employer demonstrates that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.” WESA defines certain accommodations as not imposing an undue hardship, including “(1) more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks; (2) seating; and (3) limits on lifting over 20 pounds.” Other accommodations, such as temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, must be granted unless they impose an undue hardship.  WESA does provide, however, that an employer isn’t “required to create a new or additional position in order to accommodate an employee.”
  • “Familial status” added as a protected status. WESA amends the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) to add “familial status” to the list of protected statuses. “Familial status” is already defined in the MHRA 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.”

Provisions that take effect August 1, 2014

  • “Equal pay certificate of compliance” requirement. WESA provides that, with certain exceptions, companies that have more than 40 employees and seek state contracts of at least $500,000 first must obtain an “equal pay certificate of compliance” to do business with the state. The provision also says the state may audit a business’s pay practices at any time to ensure it is in compliance with equal pay laws.
  • Increasing pregnancy leave. WESA increases the amount of pregnancy leave available from six to 12 weeks. The amendments also include a provision stating that an employer “may require an employee who plans to take a leave under this section to give the employer reasonable notice of the date the leave shall commence and the estimate of the duration of the leave.”
  • Safety leave. WESA amends Minnesota’s sick leave law to state that employees may use sick leave provided by their employer for “providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.”
  • Wage disclosure protections. WESA also makes it unlawful for an employer to prohibit its employees from disclosing their wages. The law prohibits employers from taking “any adverse employment action” against an employee for “disclosing the employee’s own wages or for discussing another employee’s wages [that] have been disclosed voluntarily.” This provision doesn’t permit employees to disclose other proprietary, trade secret, or privileged information. WESA states that violations of this provision may be enforced through a civil lawsuit under Minn. Stat. § 181.944, which makes attorneys’ fees available.
  • Amendments to Nursing Mothers Break Statute. WESA amends Minn. Stat. § 181.939 to enlarge employers’ obligation to provide a separate space for nursing mothers to express milk. Specifically, the new law states that employers must provide nursing mothers with a room or other location, “other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.” WESA states that violations of this provision may be enforced through a civil lawsuit under Minn. Stat. § 181.944, which makes attorneys’ fees available.

As you can see, a number of changes contained in WESA will require action by Minnesota employers—and some actions must take place immediately. Stay tuned to future issues of Minnesota Employment Law Letter for guidance on how to move forward.