Minnesota law goes beyond federal law in protecting parents-to-be against unfair treatment in the workplace. The 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) allows Minnesota employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from work in order to have or adopt a child, or for medical reasons including pre-natal care and pregnancy-related incapacity. Prior to WESA, new parents were entitled to leave only following childbirth under the Minnesota Parenting Leave Act (MPLA). Similar to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), pregnancy and parenting leave in Minnesota are job protected, meaning the employer must reinstate the employee to his/her old position when the leave ends. There is no “undue hardship” exception, such as exists under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Similar to FMLA, the rights to pregnancy and parenting leave apply only to employees who have been on the job for at least twelve months. Also similar to FMLA, the employer must reinstate the returning employee to his/her pre-leave rate of pay, plus any automatic raises. Unlike FMLA, which covers employers with 50 or more employees at one location, Minnesota’s parenting and pregnancy leave protections apply to employers with as few as 21 employees. In addition, employers subject to the law are required to post notice of employee rights, similar to postings required under other state and federal laws. Even employers exempt from these protections must post a leave law notice, however, because all Minnesota employers, no matter how small, are subject to Minnesota’s school leave law (not covered in this article). Apart from medically-necessitated leave, nothing in the statute restricts unpaid leave to future mothers. So spouses of expecting mothers are entitled to the same twelve weeks of pre-birth/pre-adoption leave.
WESA also extends the period of MPLA parenting leave to twelve weeks (up from six), and mandates that any employer sick leave policy include “safe leave” to benefit employees experiencing sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking. In addition, it requires that employers provide pregnant employees workplace accommodations that do not present an “undue hardship.” Exempted are several accommodations which must be given to a pregnant employee upon request, without consideration of hardship: (1) more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks; (2) seating; and (3) limits on lifting over 20 pounds. Similar to the ADA, the accommodations are subject to the interactive process, meaning the employer must work collaboratively with the employee and/or her doctor to work out a scheme of accommodations. Under WESA, however, no employer is required to create a new position to accommodate an employee’s pregnancy. All WESA and MPLA rights, including the right to post-leave reinstatement, vest whether or not an employee specifically invokes those laws in requesting time off or an accommodation. As explained by the Minnesota Supreme Court, it is sufficient that the employee informs the employer of a “qualifying reason for the needed leave and is otherwise eligible.” Hansen v. Robert Half Int’l, Inc., 813 N.W.2d 906 (Minn. 2012).
Finally, WESA requires all Minnesota employers, regardless of size, to provide reasonable unpaid break time to nursing mothers to “express breast milk” for a nursing child. This includes a private room for that purpose that has an electrical outlet. Owing to the law’s relative infancy, no cases have been found applying this (or any other) WESA requirement. But one can easily imagine situations in which it would not be practical or possible to comply, such as road construction or other outdoor work.