The notion that women are disadvantaged in the workplace is not a new one. For years, we have been faced with research demonstrating that women are paid less than men (77 cents for every dollar earned by a man), they comprise two-thirds of minimum wage earners, 25% of women quit when required to take unpaid leave for the birth of a child or to care for an ill family member, and the cost of private child care now exceeds what the average family pays for rent or food. While individual federal and state regulations address these issues to some degree, Minnesota has stepped up. Three months ago, the Minnesota’s governor signed the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), comprehensive legislation that affords new protections to women and families in nine critical areas:
Pregnancy Accommodation Requirements:
Employers with 21 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. The new law states that an employer cannot refuse the following accommodations: more frequent restroom, food and water breaks; better seating; and limits on lifting weights in excess of 20 pounds. Employers may also allow temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position if the transfer does not result in the transferring, promoting or in any way disturbing of other employees. Importantly, employers cannot retaliate against any pregnant employee who requests an accommodation. The pregnant woman does not need to provide requests from medical personnel to obtain these accommodations.
Expanded Pregnancy Leave Requirements:
The law extends the period of unpaid leave from 6 to 12 weeks for a biological or adoptive parent in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child, or to a female employee for prenatal care, or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions. To qualify for the leave, the woman must have working for the employer for at least 12 months preceding the request.
Sick Leave Benefits Law:
The law also expands Minnesota’s sick leave benefits law, which allows employees to use sick leave benefits to be caregivers to an expanded list of relatives that now includes a mother-in-law, father-in-law, or grandchildren (including a step-grandchild and a biological, adopted and foster grandchild). The sick leave benefits can also be used as “safety leave,” which is leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.
Unemployment Benefits for Victims of Sexual Assault or Stalking:
In October, the law will also allow someone who quits their employment (or who was terminated) because either the employee or an immediate family was the victim of sexual assault or stalking to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.
“Equal Pay Certificate” Requirements: Businesses with 40 or more employees in Minnesota 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.
To obtain the equal pay certificate, the business must certify that the company 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. In addition, the employer must certify that the average compensation for its female employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male employees in equivalent conditions within each of the major job categories. The business must attest that it does not restrict employees of one gender to certain job classifications and that it makes retention and promotion decisions without regard to sex and that wage and benefit disparities are corrected when identified.
The certification must explain how often wages and benefits are evaluated. The certification must also indicate whether the business, in setting its compensation and benefits, utilizes a market pricing approach, state prevailing wage or union contract requirements, a performance pay system, an internal analysis, or an alternative approach.
Audit of Contractor Businesses:
The law gives the Commissioner of Human Rights the authority to audit contractor businesses to ensure compliance with the equal pay certificate requirements described above. The points verified in an audit are: the number of male employees; the number of female employees; average annualized salaries paid to male employees and to female employees; information on performance payments, benefits, or other elements of compensation; average length of service for male and female employees in each major job category; and other information identified by the business or by the commissioner, as needed, to determine compliance.
Wage Disclosure Protections:
Employers can no longer prohibit employees from disclosing his or her wages. 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.
Amended Nursing Mother Protections:
The law requires employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a private room for nursing mothers, in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall.
Prohibition of “Familial Status” Discrimination in Employment:
The law extends the protections offered by the Minnesota Human Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on “familial status”, to include “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.”
What to Do?
Over the past 90 days, most Minnesota companies have taken steps to comply with this comprehensive legislation. For those who haven’t or aren’t sure if they have done everything that is necessary, we offer the following advice:
This quick overview is not intended as definitive legal advice, and does not explain in detail all aspects of this new legislation. For a deeper understanding, we encourage you to seek the advice of a legal expert.
Many other states are considering similar legislation to Minnesota’s WESA. Whether or not you are currently doing business in Minnesota, you should be familiar with this law, understand its implications, and consider it as a basis for reviewing your own employment policies.
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