Effective January 1, 2022, Minnesota employers with more than 15 employees will be required to provide PAID “reasonable break times each day” for a new mother (child less than 12 months old) to express breast milk. The Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) currently requires unpaid breaks. It also currently has no age limit, though it is likely the great majority do not breastfeed for more than a year. WESA was also amended to require the break times to be at the same time as any other break time already provided. An employer, “shall not reduce an employee’s compensation for time used for the purposes of expressing milk.”
So, what does this mean in practice? A nursing mother can (and must) use her already-scheduled break times for expressing milk. Since break times (if provided) are typically 15 minutes or less, they are already paid. Accordingly, nothing really should change in that situation. However, for employees who only receive reasonable time to use the bathroom each day and an unpaid lunch, this may result in providing additional paid breaks to express milk.
WESA also has been amended to include an entirely new provision for pregnancy accommodations for mothers. I know this is a wage and hour blog, so consider this a bonus post. In sum, reasonable accommodations must be made (unless undue hardship results) for health conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth upon request, and certain requests (more frequent water, food and restroom breaks, seating, and limits of lifting over 20 pounds) do not need to be supported by a doctor’s note. Employers do not need to create a new position, discharge an employee, transfer another employee, or promote an employee as an accommodation. Importantly, one other thing I want to highlight as I have spoken to employers about this, (and now it’s crystal clear), “An employer shall not require an employee to take a leave or accept an accommodation.”
Wait, what? In other words, sometimes an employer is annoyed at a request for an accommodation (maybe they think the employee is milking the system – this never happens!). And, because we know that an employer does not have to accept the employee’s requested accommodation, but may suggest ones the will accomplish the same goal, an employer may have in the past forced a pregnant employee to take the accommodation the employer created to address the medical issue. No can do as of January 1, 2022. For example, a pregnant employee requests 1 day off a week and asks for Friday off. The employer can say sure, but you can take off Wednesdays, not Fridays. The employee responds, no thanks, I will just work all 5 days then. Currently, an employer may say nope, you asked for a day off because you said you needed it for your health conditions related to pregnancy, so you can have it and must take it. This causes the pregnant employee to not get paid to work one day a week (though they asked for it). The amendment allows the pregnant employee to decide whether to accept the offered accommodation. Thus, the “be careful what you wish for” adage no longer applies (as of January 1, 2022).