Dayton Signs Law to Give Minnesota Women Better Workplace

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton chose Mother’s Day to sign and give final approval to a nine-bill legislative package designed to remedy gender-based inequities in the workplace. Addressing issues such as pay, parental leave and accommodations for expectant mothers, the Women’s Economic Security Act is a broad piece of legislation that will have an immediate and potentially drastic effect on the way Minnesota companies conduct business—particularly if those companies are the recipients of government contracts.

Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Act Receives Bipartisan Support

Women's Economic Security ActThe bill received bipartisan support in the Minnesota legislature, but was not without its opponents. State Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville) objected to the package stating from the floor that he would not “vote for a bill that promotes one gender over another.” “If you work hard, if you compete better” said Hall, “you will find opportunities whether you are a man or a woman.” Defending the Act, House Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL – Minneapolis) called the legislation one of the “hallmarks of this biennium” and a “capstone” of the last two legislative years.

The package of laws requires companies with over 50 employees, which hold or seek to hold government contracts, to meet certain requirements in order to receive a government-issued “equal pay certificate.” Among the conditions required is compliance with already-existing wage laws, which mandate that a contractor’s “average compensation for its female employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male employees” in certain job categories defined by the EEOC.

New Protected Class for Familial Status Created

The Act also creates a new protected class under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, offering protection for “familial status.” This new protected class includes parents, guardians, pregnant women and those in the process of securing legal custody of a minor. The Act also extends parental leave time from six to 12 weeks.

The Act also allocates funds for the establishment of a program designed to increase the number of women engaged in high-wage, high-demand non-traditional occupations. It also provides that $500,000 be set aside for grants to promote business ownership among Minnesota women.

New Laws To Be Implemented in Phases

Minnesota employers will have to adjust to the new laws in phases. While some provisions—such as the establishment of a “familial class” and the extension of parental leave time—are effective immediately, other provisions will phase in over the summer, with the act fully in effect by August 1, 2014. Workplace policies and handbooks will need to be revised, particularly with regard to unpaid/sick/pregnancy leave.

The initial cost of implementing the act is estimated at an approximate $2.46 million. Minnesota now has one of the most specific and far-reaching workplace equality laws in the country.

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