What You Need to Know About The Women's Economic Security Act

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May 20, 2014

On Mother's Day, May 11, 2014, Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the Women's Economic Security Act, a wide-ranging law that will make several significant changes to employment law in Minnesota. See H.F. 2536. Many of the provisions of the law took effect on May 12, 2014, the day after enactment. Here's what employers need to know about the new law.

New Pregnancy Accommodation Requirements: One of the most significant changes of the new law is a requirement for employers with 21 or more employees at least one site to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Employers are now required to engage in the interactive process with any pregnant employee who requests accommodations. The law includes an exception from this requirement when the requested accommodation "would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business." However, the law also states that it is not an undue hardship for an employer to provide the following accommodations: (1) more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks; (2) seating; and (3) limits on lifting over 20 pounds. The law further states that reasonable accommodation that may be required by the law include, but are not limited to, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, seating, frequent restroom breaks, and limits to heavy lifting. However, employers will not be required to create a new or additional position in order to accommodate an employee, nor will they be required to discharge any employee, transfer any other employee with greater seniority, or promote any employee. Finally, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who request pregnancy accommodations. These new requirements took effect on May 12, 2014. For more information about the new pregnancy accommodation requirements, click here.

Expanded Pregnancy Leave Requirements: The law requires employers with 21 or more employees at least one site to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to: (1) a biological or adoptive parent in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child; or (2) a female employee for prenatal care, or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions. To be eligible for the leave, an employee must work for the employer for at least 12 months preceding the request, and the employee must work at least in a half-time equivalent position for the 12 months preceding the request for leave. These new requirements took effect on May 12, 2014.

Changes to Minnesota's Sick Leave Benefits Law: The law expanded Minnesota's sick leave benefits law, which allows employees to use sick leave benefits to care for a relative, to include care for an employee's mother-in-law, father-in-law, or grandchildren – in addition to the other relatives already covered by the law. It also allows employees to use sick leave benefits for "safety leave," which is defined as "leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking." The law further prohibits employer retaliation against employees who request or use sick leave benefits protected by the law. These new requirements took effect on May 12, 2014.

Unemployment Benefits For Victims of Sexual Assault or Stalking: Effective October 5, 2014, the law will allow employees who quit their employment or who are terminated because either the employee or an immediate family was the victim of sexual assault or stalking to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.

New "Equal Pay Certificate" Requirements: Subject to a few exceptions, the law will generally require that any business with 40 or more employees in Minnesota (or the state where the business has its primary place of business) on any single day in the previous 12 months, must provide an "equal pay certificate" in order to execute a contract or agreement in excess of $500,000 with the State, an agency of the state, the Metropolitan Council, or a metropolitan agency. In order to obtain the equal pay certificate, the business must pay a $150.00 fee and the chief executive of the business must certify that:

  • The business is in compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Minnesota Human Rights Act, and Minnesota Equal Pay for Equal Work Law;
  • 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;
  • The business does not restrict employees of one sex to certain job classifications and makes retention and promotion decisions without regard to sex;
  • That wage and benefit disparities are corrected when identified to ensure compliance with equal pay requirements;
  • The certification must explain how often wages and benefits are evaluated to ensure compliance with equal pay requirements; and
  • The certification must indicate whether the business, in setting its compensation and benefits, utilizes: (1) a market pricing approach; (2) state prevailing wage or union contract requirements; (3) a performance pay system; (4) an internal analysis; or (5) an alternative approach to determine what level of wages and benefits to pay its employees. If the business uses an alternative approach, the business must provide a description of its approach.

The law will also give the Commissioner of Human Rights the authority to audit contractor businesses to ensure compliance with the equal pay certificate requirements described above. If audited, a business will be required to disclose: (1) the number of male employees; (2) the number of female employees; (3) average annualized salaries paid to male employees and to female employees, in the manner most consistent with the employer's compensation system, within each major job category; (4) information on performance payments, benefits, or other elements of compensation, in the manner most consistent with the employer's compensation system, if requested by the commissioner as part of a determination as to whether these elements of compensation are different for male and female employees; (5) average length of service for male and female employees in each major job category; and (6) other information identified by the business or by the commissioner, as needed, to determine compliance.

The equal pay certificate requirements will become effective on August 1, 2014.

Wage Disclosure Protections: The law prohibits employers from: (1) requiring nondisclosure by an employee of his or her wages as a condition of employment; (2) requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other document which purports to deny an employee the right to disclose the employee's wages; or (3) taking any adverse employment action against an employee for disclosing the employee's own wages or discussing another employee's wages which have been disclosed voluntarily. The law also requires employers with handbooks to inform employees of these rights in their employee handbooks. On the other hand, the law clarifies that it does not authorize employees to disclose proprietary information, trade secret information, or information that is otherwise subject to a legal privilege or protected by law. These requirements took effect on May 12, 2014.

Amended Nursing Mother Protections: The law amended Minnesota's existing nursing mother statute to require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location to nursing mothers who need to express milk. The amended law requires employers to provide a room "in close proximity to the work area, 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." The law also prohibits retaliation against employees who assert rights under this section. These requirements took effect on May 12, 2014.

Prohibition of "Familial Status" Discrimination in Employment: The law amended the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) to prohibit employment discrimination based on "familial status." The MHRA defines "familial status" to mean "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." The "familial status" protection also extends to "any person who is pregnant or is in the process of securing legal custody of an individual who has not attained the age of majority." These requirements took effect on May 12, 2014.

Takeaway: The Women's Economic Security Act represents a substantial change to Minnesota employment law. Many provisions of the law took effect on May 12, 2014, and are currently applicable to employers. For more information, please visit Minnesota Employer, which will cover the various aspects of the law in greater detail in the coming weeks.