June 8, 2012

No Magic Words Needed under Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, says State’s Highest Court

Posted in Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Family Leave, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act tagged , , , , , at 9:24 am by Tom Jacobson

Employees are not required to specifically mention the Minnesota Parenting Leave Act (MPLA) to qualify for MPLA leave, says the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The MPLA requires Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees to grant an unpaid leave of absence to eligible employees who are natural or adoptive parents in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child. Employers must continue to make coverage available to the employee while on leave under any group insurance policy, group subscriber contract, or health care plan for the employee and any dependents. Employees returning from MPLA leave are entitled to return to employment in the their former position or in a position of comparable duties, number of hours, and pay.

Unfortunately, the statute does not precisely say what an employee must do to request MPLA leave. This lack of precision was at the heart of the Court’s May 30, 2012 decision in the case of Hansen v. Robert Half International.

In this case Kim Hansen, who was employed by RHI, became pregnant and requested a leave of absence. In the paperwork that accompanied her request, Hansen indicated that her leave was pregnancy related, but she did not specifically mention the MPLA. RHI granted Hansen’s leave request and characterized it as a 12-week short term disability/FMLA leave.

Hansen returned to work after her approved leave ended, but she was dismissed a week later during a reduction in force. She then sued RHI, claiming, among other things, that RHI violated the MPLA by failing to reinstate her to the same or a comparable position after her maternity leave. The trial court dismissed Hansen’s MPLA claims for a number of reasons, including that Hansen had no right to reinstatement because the MPLA requires employees to request leave specifically under the MPLA, and Hansen failed to do so.

The case made its way to the Minnesota Supreme Court which analyzed the wording of the statute and compared it to the FMLA. The Court then concluded:

The record shows Hansen informed RHI of a qualifying reason for her leave. When Hansen completed her leave of absence request form, she completed section A of the form pertaining to “short-term medical disability,” “pregnancy-related disability,” or “worker’s compensation disability” leave. She completed the line entitled “[p]regnancy related disability” and stated her delivery date. In addition, [one of RHI’s managers] admitted that she was on notice that Hansen would need to leave due to Hansen’s complications related to her pregnancy. Because Hansen stated a qualifying reason for needing leave under the MPLA – childbirth – we conclude that she invoked the protections of the Act.

Although Hansen won on this issue, the Court threw out her case for other reasons.

What you need to know: Employees who are eligible for MPLA leave are not required to specifically invoke the MPLA in order to qualify for leave. So long as the eligible employee puts the employer on notice of a qualifying reason – childbirth – s/he is protected by the MPLA. Also, the Hansen case highlights the challenges that arise when MPLA, FMLA and other leaves of absence overlap. For these reasons, it is important for employers to establish clear policies and procedures for managing these complicated leave situations.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

1 Comment »

  1. […] June I noted how the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in the case of Hansen v. Robert Half International that so […]

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