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New laws bolster women employees (and some men, too)

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A series of new laws enacted by the Minnesota legislature this spring have bolstered the rights of women employees while increasing potential liability and remedies upon their employers.  Some of the measures enhance the rights of male employees, as well.

Here’s a look at some of them.

The greatest changes come under the Women’s Economic Security Act,  most of which went into effect on August 1, 2014. The major ones include the following:

  • Employees working at businesses with 21 or more employees must be given 12 weeks of unpaid pregnancy and parental leave within 12 months of birth or adoption of a child.  This is an increase from the prior 6-week requirement.
  • Employees at businesses with 21 or more employees must be given pregnancy-related accommodations, such as additional break time, heaving lifting restrictions, and seating arrangements, even without medical certification.  Other accommodations also may be obligatory with proper medical recommendation.
  • Nursing mothers of all businesses, regardless of size, must be provided with unpaid breaks and private space, including available electrical outlets.
  • Employees in businesses of 21 or more employees can use sick time for expanded leaves, such as caring for in-laws and grandchildren, and for personal “safety,” which expands the sick time use formerly allowed only for employees and dependent children.
  • Companies with 40 or more employees seeking to do at least $500,000 of business with the State must comply with comparable pay requirements and certify that the pay for men and women is equal for similar jobs.
  • Employers may not forbid employees from discussing their wages with co-workers.  This prohibition must be stated in any employer handbooks, which also must include information about some of their other rights and remedies for non-compliance.

Some other new workplace laws, which affect all employees, also went into place. While applicable regardless of gender, these may have greater impact on women. They include:

  • A new provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act will now permit either party to request a jury trial in discrimination and harassment cases under state law.  Previously, the law only allowed for trials before judges.  The new measure parallels existing Federal discrimination laws, which have always allowed jury trials.
  • The “financial status” of an individual has been added to the protected classifications against discrimination or harassment.  Employees providing care to aging partner or close family members may not be discriminated against at work.
  • Nor may employees retaliate against employees exercising any of their rights.
  • The state minimum wage law, one of the lowest in the country at $6.15 per hour, has been increased to one of the highest.  The first increase this past August was to $8.00 per hour, followed by $8.50 next April and $9.50 by August in 2016.
  • Pay for healthcare workers has been increased by about 5%, while a new Federal rule, effective January 1, 2015, will require that all of them be paid at least the minimum Federal wage and 1-1/2 times compensation for overtime work.

Employees and employers alike will be significantly affected by these changes and should be prepared to deal with them.