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Minnesota Employers’ New Obligations Under the Women’s Economic Security Act

Labor & Employment Law Alert Judith A. Williams-Killackey, Pamela M. Ploor

Minnesota has enacted the Women's Economic Security Act, which imposes greater obligations on employers. The changes increase parental leave and sick leave, require a reasonable effort by employers to provide a private space for nursing mothers, require state contractors to certify their compensation complies with the Equal Pay Act, prohibit discrimination based on familial status, prohibit an employer from requiring employees not to discuss their wages, and require employers to include a notice in their handbook addressing the right of employees to discuss their wages. The effective dates for these provisions differ, though some are already effective. Minnesota employers must immediately take action to ensure that they are in compliance with the new requirements, which are discussed below.

First, an employee who worked for 12 months on at least a 50% schedule is entitled to 12 weeks of new parenting leave (previously only required to provide 6 weeks of leave) and of leave for pregnancy-related leaves, such as prenatal care or incapacity due to pregnancy or childbirth. Such an employee is also entitled to reasonable accommodations related to their pregnancy, unless it would pose an undue hardship. Requests for more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks; seating; and/or limits on lifting over 20 pounds do not pose an undue hardship.

Second, the new law also expands use of personal sick leave benefits to an employee’s grandchild, mother-in-law or father in-law. (Employers are already required to allow such benefits to be used for the employee's child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, or stepparent).

Third, an employer must allow an employee to use earned sick leave for “safety leave” to provide or receive assistance because of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

Fourth, an employer must make a reasonable effort to provide nursing mothers with a private space — which cannot be a bathroom — to express milk. The space must be free from intrusion and have access to an electrical outlet.

Fifth, any company with at least 40 employees — not just in Minnesota — doing business (at least one contract in excess of $500,000) with the State of Minnesota must obtain an “Equal Pay Act Certificate of Compliance,” which requires a discrimination-focused compensation analysis and a certification signed by the CEO. To get the certificate, the contractor must (among other things) submit a statement signed by the chairperson of the board or chief executive officer of the business providing:

  1. The business is in compliance with Title VII, Equal Pay Act of 1963, Minnesota Human Rights Act, and Minnesota Equal Pay for Equal Work Law;
  2. The average compensation for its female employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male employees expected to perform work under the contract, taking into account specific factors;
  3. The business does not restrict employees of one sex to certain job classifications and makes retention and promotion decisions without regard to sex;
  4. The wage and benefit disparities are corrected when identified to ensure compliance; and
  5. The frequency with which the company evaluates wages and benefits to ensure compliance.

Sixth, the law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of familial status. "Familial status" is defined as the state of minor children living with a parent, guardian, or person designated in writing by the parent or guardian.

Seventh, the law prohibits an employer from requiring employees not to discuss their wages. An employer must include notice of the employees’ rights regarding wage disclosure and remedies for violation of the law in its handbook.

Practical Recommendations for Employers

  • Employers should review and revise their policies and practices to ensure compliance.
  • Employers should train individuals responsible for administering leaves to make sure they are knowledgeable about the new leave entitlement. Remember that Minnesota has lower limits than the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act regarding the number of employees that trigger coverage and the hour requirements for eligibility for leave.
  • Employers should train managers and human resources regarding the accommodation requirements for pregnant employees.
  • Employers should make sure the notice regarding the wage disclosure prohibition is provided.
  • Employers should make sure that managers are aware that they cannot discipline or retaliate against employees for making requests allowed under the law, such as a private space for expressing breast milk, or for revealing information about wages.
  • Employers should consider providing private nursing rooms and confirm all nursing rooms comply with the law’s requirements and, if not, identify alternative areas.
  • Employers that do business with the State of Minnesota need to see if they are covered by the Equal Pay Act certification requirement and if so, engage in the required compensation analysis.

For more information, please contact Judi Williams-Killackey at (414) 277-5439 / judi.williams@quarles.com, Pam Ploor at (414) 277-5661 / pamela.ploor@quarles.com, or your Quarles & Brady attorney.