New Minnesota Law Expands Parental Leave and Pregnancy Accommodations

Posted by Sam Kramer

One of the major changes to Minnesota law this year was the creation of a new paid family and medical leave program. That new program, which was signed into law last month, will not go into effect until 2026, but that does not mean that employees have to wait that long for improvements to the state’s leave laws.

        That’s because the legislature also expanded the state’s legal protections and rights for parents, pregnant employees, and nursing employees. As of July 1, 2023, all Minnesota employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child or health issues related to pregnancy or childbirth. The new law amends previous eligibility requirements that limited the right to such leave to employees who had worked for at least one year at an employer with at least 21 employees. The law continues to prohibit retaliation against employees who take protected leave, and require reinstatement to the employees’ position at the time they started their leave. Employers must also allow employees exercising their right to this leave to stay on their employer-sponsored health insurance plan. These protections now apply to every worker in Minnesota from the first day on a job.

            This is a significant improvement to Minnesota’s protections for parents and pregnant employees. Under the previous state law, and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees were not entitled to leave for pregnancy-related health conditions or bonding time if they had worked for their employer for less than a year, or if they worked for an employer with too few employees. In fact, the FMLA only applies to employees who have worked a certain number of hours for at least one year, and to employers with 50 or more employees, which dramatically limits its coverage. With the new law, Minnesota has guaranteed that parents are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave without having to worry about losing their job or facing other forms of retaliation. Employers who refuse to let employees take this leave, retaliate against them for requesting it, or fail to reinstate them to their previous position when they return from leave are subject to lawsuits for any harm caused by their actions.

            In addition to the expansion of parental and pregnancy leave, the new law also recognizes new and improved rights for pregnant and nursing employees. The new law no longer allows employers to require nursing or lactating employees to only take breaks to express milk during break times that were already provided. The law also now requires that employers provide a “clean, private, and secure” space for nursing or lactating employees to take those breaks.

            Finally, the law now also recognizes a new set of accommodations that employers need to consider providing to pregnant workers who need them. The list now includes temporary leaves of absence, modifications to work assignments and schedules, and more frequent or longer restroom breaks. These were added to the previously identified accommodations of temporary transfer to less strenuous or hazardous positions, improved options for sitting during shifts, and limits to heavy lifting. The law does not limit the accommodations available to an employee to the ideas on this list, and requires employers to engage in an interactive process with the employee to identify the accommodation they need.

            As with the expanded right to leave, employers that refuse to honor these new rights or that retaliate against employees who assert them are subject to lawsuits for damages. In other words, if an employer refuses to accommodate pregnant or nursing employees in the manner the law requires, the employees can sue.

            The Minneapolis Office of MacDonald Hoague & Bayless represents employees who have been retaliated against or denied parental or pregnancy leave, and employees who face employer resistance or retaliation when seeking to exercise their right to accommodations related to pregnancy or nursing. These new laws provide improved protections for workers, and will allow more employees to hold their employers accountable for refusing to do the right thing and provide leave or other accommodations. If you are an employe having trouble with any of these issues, we are here to help. Please call 612.349.2720 to set up a consultation.

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