Minnesota Expands Workplace Protections for New and Expectant Parents

Minnesota workers will soon get paid lactation breaks and expanded pregnancy accommodations.

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Young mother playing with her baby at home

Paid lactation breaks and pregnancy accommodations for more workers are some of the changes that more of the Minnesota workforce will see at the beginning of 2022.

Employers in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” will have to comply with two expanded workplace protections for nursing and expecting workers. They will go into effect starting January 1, 2022.

First, lactation breaks for Minnesota workers must be compensated.

Second, an increased number of employees will be able to ask for accommodations while pregnant. Accommodations for pregnant workers will apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. Currently, the requirement for pregnancy accommodation applies to businesses with 21 or more employees.

Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry estimates the protections will affect 27,000 additional workers.

“No one should have to choose between their jobs and their family,” Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan said in a statement released by Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry. “It makes a huge difference to have paid breaks to support breastfeeding and pregnancy accommodations that start on your very first day. These new workplace protections help ensure employers are providing positive and supportive environments for new parents in the workforce.”

Minnesota S.F. 9 also moves pregnancy accommodation requirements from the parenting leave law into the breastfeeding rights law.

Gov. Tim Walz signed the amendments into law this year.

Paid lactation breaks for nursing mothers

Under the law in its existing form, Minnesota employers with one or more employees must provide reasonable, unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk after the employee giving birth.

Starting January 1, employers cannot reduce an employee’s compensation for work time spent on lactation breaks.

However, starting January 1, employers cannot reduce an employee’s compensation for work time spent on lactation breaks. This includes requiring that employees use paid leave benefits such as:

  • Sick time
  • Vacation
  • Paid time off, for 12 months after the birth of the child

These are the requirements that remain the same:

  • Employers must provide a private area — other than a bathroom or toilet stall — for the expression of milk.
  • The location must have access to an electrical outlet and be near the worksite

Employers may ask that lactation breaks be scheduled over regularly scheduled rest or meal breaks, but if not, they cannot reduce an employee’ compensation, according to Gina K. Janeiro and Hadley M. Scott, attorneys with employment law firm Jackson Lewis.

Pregnancy accommodations for expectant workers

Currently, employers with 21 or more employees at a site must provide reasonable accommodations for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth if the employee requests an accommodation. The advice of a health care provider or certified doula must be provided. However, there is an employer exception; organizations don’t have to comply if doing so imposes an undue hardship on the business.

The employee and employer also must engage in an interactive process over the employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot provide an accommodation to an employee in a “take it or leave it” posture.

“Reasonable accommodations” may include, but are not limited to:

  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
  • Seating
  • Frequent restroom breaks
  • Limits to heavy lifting

However, the advice of a licensed health care provider or a certified doula is not a requirement. Also, an employer cannot claim undue hardship if workers claim simple accommodations such as:

  • More frequent restroom breaks
  • Food and water breaks
  • Seating
  • Limits on lifting over 20 pounds

Those requirements remain the same except that, as of January 1, private and public employers with 15 or more employees will have to provide pregnancy accommodations under the amended Minnesota law.

In addition, there is no longer any length of time or average number of hours a week an employee must satisfy to qualify for the accommodation rights and protections under the statute, according to Janeiro and Scott.

As of January 1, private and public employers with 15 or more employees will have to provide pregnancy accommodations under the amended Minnesota law.

Federal law on lactation breaks

Federal law has provided unpaid breaks for lactation since 2010 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to provide reasonable, unpaid break time so that an employee can express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time the employee needs to express milk while at work. The FLSA also requires that an employer provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk.

However, if the federal requirements impose undue hardship, small employers — those with fewer than 50 employees — do not have to comply with the workplace lactation requirement.

State, federal law on workplace pregnancy accommodation

Thirty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and 5 cities — the District of Columbia, New York City, Philadelphia, and Providence and Central Falls, RI — have adopted pregnancy accommodation legislation, according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Children and Families.

Capitol hill lawmakers have long debated whether to require employer workplace accommodations for pregnant workers.

The federal “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)” was first introduced in 2012 and is closely modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act and includes protections not already found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, according to an August 2021 statement issued by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), one of the bill’s sponsors.

Under the proposal, employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. The accommodations would include additional bathroom breaks, light duty or a stool for sitting. However, if the accommodations pose an undue hardship to the employer, then the employer would not have to comply.

The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate in April 2021 by a bipartisan group of senators including Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the measure in May 2021 on a vote of 315-101. A Senate committee also voted in favor of the measure, according to Shaheen’s statement. The bill awaits a vote before the full Senate.

In addition to bipartisan support within Congress, the federal bill on pregnancy accommodation has widespread support outside Congress. Shaheen said the bill has been endorsed by more than 220 organizations, including women’s and workers’ rights groups, maternal health and racial justice organizations as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and “leading businesses.”

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