It’s a new year! That can only mean one thing . . . you are wondering what changed in employment law in 2014. Here in Minnesota, the answer is “a lot.” Here are a few of the most significant changes: 1. Minimum Wage is Going Up
For the past few years, most Minnesota employers had to pay most employees a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. As of August 1, 2014, Minnesota raised its minimum wage to $8.00 per hour for large employers ($500,000 or more in annual gross revenues) and $6.50 per hour for small employers (less than $500,000 in annual gross revenues). Although the small employer rate is lower than the federal rate, small employers with employees engaged in interstate commerce (which are most employees) will need to comply with the federal, $7.25 per hour rate. Large employers will need to comply with the higher Minnesota minimum wage rate of $8.00 per hour. Although there are certain circumstances under which these rates do not apply, for the vast majority of Minnesota employers and employees, these are the rates that should be applied.
Be ready, however, for the Minnesota minimum wage rates to go up every year! See Minn. Stat. §177.24, Subd. 1. – Starting Aug. 1, 2015: Minimum wage will be $9.00 (large employer) and $7.25 (small employer) – Starting Aug. 1, 2016: Minimum wage will be $9.50 (large employer) and $7.75 (small employer) – Starting Jan. 1, 2018: Rates will increase based on inflation. 2. The Minnesota Human Rights Act Now Provides for the Right to a Jury Trial The Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) contains the majority of Minnesota’s prohibitions on discrimination in employment. The MHRA now provides that individuals who claim to have been the victims of discrimination, or the defendant employer, have the right to a jury trial. Minn. Stat. §363A.33, Subd. 6. Previously, such claims were tried to a Judge without a jury. 3. The Women’s Economic Security Act The Women’s Economic Security Act (“WESA”) was an expansive piece of legislation that amended or enacted numerous Minnesota statutes. For a comprehensive breakdown of the legislation, see https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=239&year=2014&type=0#laws.3.2.0. For most private sector employers who do not have government contracts, the following summarizes the most significant changes (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of changes): Minnesota’s Parenting Leave Law has been changed as follows (Minn. Stat. §181.941): i. Definition of “employee” has been changed slightly. Minn. Stat. §181.940, Subd. 2. ii. Title of the law has been changed to “Pregnancy and Parenting Leave” (previously, “Parenting Leave”) iii. Leave may now be taken for up to 12 weeks (previously, six weeks) iv. Leave for a biological or adoptive parent in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child must now begin within 12 months of the birth or adoption or the date the child leaves the hospital if the child is hospitalized longer than the mother (previously, six weeks). v. A female employee may now take leave for prenatal care, or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions. Comment: The changes to this law bring it more in line with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Minnesota’s Sick Leave Statute has been changed as follows (Minn. Stat. §181.9413): i. Definition of “employee” has been changed slightly. Minn. Stat. §181.940, Subd. 2. ii. An employee may use sick leave provided by an employer not only for his/her own illness or injury, but also for an illness of or injury to the employee’s child (minor or adult), spouse, sibling, parent, parent-in-law, grandchild (including biological, adopted, foster and step-grandchildren), grandparent or stepparent. (previously, there was no provision for parents-in-law or grandchildren). iii. An employee may use sick leave for “safety leave,” which is leave to provide or receive assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking. Comment: Minnesota employers are not required to provide sick leave. This law applies to those Minnesota employers that do provide sick leave (or paid time off that can be used for illness). Minnesota’s New Pregnancy Accommodation Statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.9414) i. An employer must provide reasonable accommodations to an employee (as defined in Minn. Stat. §181.940, Subd. 2) for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth if requested by an employee, with the advice of her licensed health care provider or certified doula, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. ii. A pregnant employee does not need to obtain the advice of her licensed health care provider or certified doula, and an employer cannot 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. iii. Like the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Accommodation statute provides that the employer and employee engage in an interactive process with regard to a request for a reasonable accommodation. iv. An employer does not have to create a new or additional position as an accommodation, and is not required to terminate or transfer any other employer with greater seniority or to promote an employee. Comment: Pregnant employees who would not otherwise constitute qualified individuals with a disability are now entitled to a reasonable accommodation to the extent required by this new law. Employers should take particular note of the accommodations noted above that cannot be deemed to constitute an undue hardship. Minnesota’s New Wage Disclosure Protection Statute(Minn. Stat. § 181.172) i. An employer cannot require an employee not to disclosure his/her wages as a condition of employment and cannot take any adverse action against an employee for disclosing his/her own wages or discussing another employee’s wages which have been disclosed voluntarily. ii. Employers who provide employee handbooks must include a notice of employee rights and remedies under this section. Comment: Under the National Labor Relations Act, employers could not compel employees to refrain from disclosing or discussing their wages. Notwithstanding that, many employers, unaware of the law, imposed such a requirement. The new Minnesota law makes this prohibition clear and, importantly, requires that the rights and remedies under this new law be included in an employee handbook. Minnesota’s Nursing Mothers Statute has been revised as noted below (Minn. Stat. § 181.939) i. Unless it would unduly disrupt operations, an employer must provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child (which can run concurrently with any break time already provided). ii. An employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location close to the work area, other than a bathroom or toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet. The addition of “a bathroom” and “shielded from view and free from intrusion” language are new. Comment: The key change to this law is the express prohibition of using a bathroom as the room in which an employee can express breast milk and the provision that the room must be shielded from the view of others and include an electrical outlet. These are common sense requirements and seem unlikely to cause much difficulty for employers. The Minnesota Human Rights Act has a new protected classification In addition to the previous protected classes, a new protected class for “familial status” has been added. Minn. Stat. §363A.08, Subd. 2. “Familial status” means 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 protections afforded against discrimination on the basis of family status apply 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. Minn. Stat. § 363A.03, Subd. 18. Comment: How broadly the prohibition against discrimination based on familial status will be interpreted remains to be seen. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has provided some initial guidance, including examples, here: http://mn.gov/mdhr/employers/familial_status.html. What steps can employers take to comply with the Women’s Economic Security Act? – Update employee handbooks to reflect these changes including, but not limited to: adding “familial status” as a protected class status, adding a notice of employee rights and remedies under the Wage Disclosure Protection Statute, updating a company’s parenting leave policy to include pregnancy and to extend the amount of leave to 12 weeks, adding language to comply with the Pregnancy Accommodation statute, and updating sick leave policies to provide for time off due to the illness or injury of a parent-in-law or grandchild. – Update other documents to the extent necessary. For example, if your job application includes a list of protected classifications, that needs to be updated. – Train managers and those who are responsible for properly applying company policies and ensuring compliance with employment laws. 4. “Ban the Box” Prohibits Most Employers From Asking About Criminal History on a Job Application Since January 1, 2014, most private Minnesota employers are no longer allowed to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history on a job application. Employers can ask such questions after an individual has been selected for an interview or, if there will not be an interview, as part of a conditional job offer. This restriction previously applied to most public employers. For the full text of the law, and to see the exceptions, see Minn. Stat. § 364.021. Practice Pointer: Employers who have not yet updated their job applications to comply with the Ban the Box law should do so right away!