Sick Time and Paid Leave Bills Proposed in Minnesota Legislature

02/19/2015 / Phyllis Karasov

Several bills regarding sick time and paid leave have been introduced to the Minnesota Legislature which, if passed, could have significant impact on Minnesota employers.

SF 481 and HF 549: Paid Sick and Safe Time
On February 2, 2015, a contingent of state senate and house leaders introduced legislation that, if passed, would require all Minnesota employers to provide paid sick and safe time leave to their employees. Minnesota would become one of only four states to require such a measure. The most striking portion of this legislation is the scope – the law would require that any employer with at least one employee provide paid sick and safe time leave.

This new bill would affect all Minnesota employers by mandating that employees begin accruing sick and safe time leave at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, which can begin to be used after 90 days of employment. Employees who have performed at least 680 hours of work for the employer or have worked for that employer for at least 17 weeks are eligible. Each employee can accrue up to 72 hours of earned sick time in a calendar year unless the employer employs fewer than 21 employees, in which case the cap is 40 hours.

The sick and safe time can be used for:
1)         an employee’s
-        mental or physical illness, injury or health condition;
-        need for medical diagnosis, care or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; or
-        need for preventive medical or heath care.

2)         care of an employee’s family member
-        with a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition;
-        who needs medical diagnosis, care or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; or
-        who needs preventive medical or heath care.

3)         absence due to domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking of the employee or the employee’s family member, provided certain conditions are met.

When an employee uses earned sick and safe time for more than three consecutive days, an employer can require reasonable documentation for the sick and safe time leave.

Employers who already provide their employees with earned sick time under a paid time-off policy or other paid leave policy that meets or exceeds the minimum requirements of the new bill are not required to provide additional paid sick time.

SF 481 has been referred to the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee for hearing.

HF 549 has been referred to the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee for hearing.

HF 580 and SF 779: Proposed Paid Parenting Leave
There will be some interplay between the above-described proposed bills and two other proposed bills which provide for paid parenting leave. The Minnesota Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act currently exempts small employers with fewer than 21 employees at any one site from the mandatory pregnancy and parenting leave. This bill would amend the Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act to include the definitions in the paid sick leave bill. Small businesses with fewer than 21 employees would no longer be exempt from the Minnesota Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act – any employer which employs one or more employees would be covered by the Pregnancy and Parenting Act and the paid sick leave requirement.

The legislators pushing for this reform claim to have bipartisan support and are hopeful of its passage. A day after the legislation’s introduction in the senate, a statewide coalition of labor, faith and community organizations met in Duluth to kick off the Minnesota Benefits campaign, which they hope garners additional support for the legislation’s passage. Duluth was chosen as the kickoff site because St. Louis County, which includes the city, currently ranks among the lowest in the state in terms of employee access to paid sick leave.

The proposed bill for paid parenting leave defines an eligible employee to be an employee who has ‎performed at least 680 hours of work for an employer or who has worked for that employer for at ‎least 17 weeks. The 12-week pregnancy and parenting leave currently required under Minnesota law ‎is expanded to include caregiver leave, which is leave to care for a family member who has a serious ‎health condition. “Serious health condition” has the same meaning as set forth in the FMLA. The ‎proposed bill defines family member as an employee’s child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, ‎mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent.‎ To receive benefits for caregiver leave, the employee must submit a certification ‎from a health care provider supporting the claim that the employee’s family member has a serious ‎health condition.

The proposed legislation requires that, beginning on a date determined by the commissioner of the ‎Department of Labor and Industry but no later than one year after the effective date of the legislation, ‎every employee must pay a premium equal to 0.1 percent of the employee’s yearly wages to fund a paid ‎benefits program, up to $78 per year. The premium is assessed on the first $78,000 of wages earned in ‎a calendar year. The employer must also pay a premium equal to the total of premiums paid by the ‎employer’s employees. These premium amounts will be adjusted beginning two years after the date ‎on which the commissioner begins collecting premiums, to reflect changes in the U.S. Bureau of Labor ‎Statistics Consumer Price Index for the Minneapolis-St. Paul consolidated metropolitan statistical area.‎

Beginning one year after the date on which the commissioner starts collecting premiums, benefits ‎must be paid to an employee who is eligible for leave and files an application for benefits. The ‎maximum amount of time an employee may receive benefits is six weeks. The proposed legislation ‎describes how the amount of an employee’s weekly benefit amount is calculated, which is based on ‎the percentage of the median county family income that an employee receives as yearly earnings.‎‎ “Median county family income” is defined as the median family income under the American ‎Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for the most recent year available in the county where the ‎employee resides. A pregnancy, parenting and caregiver leave insurance account is created in the ‎special revenue fund, to be appropriated to and managed by the Department of Labor and ‎Industry. Beginning two years after the date on which the commissioner starts collecting premiums, ‎the commissioner must annually adjust the maximum weekly benefit amount to reflect changes in the ‎U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for the Minneapolis-St. Paul consolidated ‎metropolitan statistical area for all urban consumers.‎

If the IRS determines that the benefits paid under this legislation are subject to federal income tax, ‎the commissioner must advise an individual filing a claim for benefits, at the time of filing, that the IRS ‎has determined that benefits are subject to federal income tax, that requirements exist pertaining to ‎estimated tax payments, and that the employee can elect to have federal income tax deducted and ‎withheld from the benefits.‎

The length of leave may be reduced by the period of paid parental, disability, personal, medical or sick ‎leave or vacation provided by the employer so that the total leave does not exceed 12 weeks, or leave ‎taken for the same purpose by the employee under the FMLA.‎

HF 580 has been referred to the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee for hearing.

SF 779 has been referred to the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee for hearing.

Employers who would like more information regarding this proposed legislation should contact Phyllis Karasov or ‎one of Larkin Hoffman’s other employment attorneys.‎