On May 11, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the Women’s Economic Security Act (Act), designed to protect women in the workplace and remove various economic barriers that women face in employment. The Act seeks to close the gender pay gap; extends protection for women affected by pregnancy, nursing, childbirth; adds familial status as a protected class; expands family and sick leave; and provides incentives and grants for business and certain job opportunities for women. Many of these provisions take effect immediately, and the remainder take effect August 1, 2014.

Covered employers vary by the particular provisions. Minnesota employers with 40 or more employees that have state contracts valued at or above $500,000 must provide a certificate of compliance. Sick and parenting leave and pregnancy accommodation provisions apply to employers with 21 or more employees at a worksite. The remaining provisions – wage non-disclosure, discrimination on the basis of familial status, and nursing accommodations – apply to employers with one or  more employees.

Certificate of Compliance

Under the Act, covered employers must certify that they pay employees equal wages and that they are in compliance with federal and state employment laws. Employers must also provide an equal pay compliance statement identifying any wage and benefit disparities and submit an approach to fix such disparities.

Wage  Non-Disclosure/Familial  Status/ Nursing

The Act also bars employers from imposing wage non- disclosure policies or retaliating against employees who disclose or discuss wage information. Additionally, the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers affected by pregnancy, nursing, and childbirth. Familial status is defined to include parents, legal guardians, pregnant employees, and those seeking to obtain legal custody of minors. Employers do not have to make pregnancy-related accommodations if the accommodations would amount to an undue hardship. However, employers may not deny employee requests for more frequent restroom, food and water breaks, seating, and 20 pound lifting limits. Employers must also provide unpaid break time and a private area for nursing mothers.

Leave

The Act increases and provides additional leave for covered workers. Unpaid leave available under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act is doubled from six  weeks to 12 weeks and may be used for pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions. Otherwise, leave may be taken within 12 months of the birth or adoption of a child. The Act also permits employees to use sick leave benefits to care for an employee’s mother-in-law, father-in-law, and grandchildren, in addition to adult and minor children, spouse, parents, stepparent, or grandparent. Sick leave is expanded to include “safety leave” which is leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.

Incentives/Grants

Finally, the Act provides various incentives and grants  to encourage women in non-traditional, high-wage jobs and promote women in entrepreneurial businesses. The Act also intends to establish a state-administered retirement savings plan for workers without employer- sponsored pensions or retirement saving systems.

Employers, with employees in Minnesota, should ensure compliance with the applicable new laws by reviewing, and, if necessary, revising reasonable accommodation, discrimination, leave, and wage procedures and  policies.

Click here for the full text of the Act.