December 12, 2012

Minnesota Parenting Leave Rights Expanded by Federal Court

Posted in Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Family Leave, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:25 am by Tom Jacobson

IMGIn June I noted how the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in the case of Hansen v. Robert Half International that so long as employees disclose a qualifying reason for parenting leave, they are not required to specifically mention the Minnesota Parenting Leave Act (MPLA) to qualify for MPLA leave. A federal court has further expanded the MPLA by ruling that no specific language is needed to extend the right to reinstatement following an MPLA leave and that a reduction in force (RIF) is not a lawful reason for denying reinstatement.

The federal case, Kersten v. Old Dominion Freight Line, revolved around Anastasia Kersten’s maternity leave while working for Old Dominion.  According to court documents, Kersten and Old Dominion agreed that her leave would run from September 10 through November 1, 2009. On September 18, 2009 Kersten e-mailed an Old Dominion manager and requested to “come back on the 9th as long as that is ok with you.” The manager responded that “Nov 9 will work.” Old Dominion terminated Kersten on November 4, 2009, claiming that the termination was part of a RIF.

Under the MPLA employees may determine the length of leave, “but [the leave] may not exceed six weeks, unless agreed to by the employer.” Also, employees have a limited right to reinstatement at the end of their leave. Old Dominion argued that its agreement to extend Kersten’s leave was not an agreement to extend her right to reinstatement. Relying on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Hansen, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota rejected that theory:

Using Hansen as a guide, the court determines that no specific language is required to extend leave; rather, a specific agreement to reinstate is reached when an employee requests a date to return to work, and an employer consents. A contrary interpretation would contravene the goal of the MPLA – to provide pregnancy leave for a term mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee.

Next, the court addressed Old Dominion’s RIF argument. Under the MPLA, an employee has no right to reinstatement if “the employer experiences a layoff and the employee would have lost a position had the employee not been on leave, pursuant to the good faith operation of a bona fide layoff and recall system, including a system under a collective bargaining agreement.” Thus, the question was whether Old Dominion’s alleged RIF was a layoff that fit within the exception. The court said no. Specifically, the court noted that in this case, Old Dominion was merely implementing a verbal standard operating procedure which did not include any right of a RIF’d employee to be recalled/reinstated; therefore, it was not a “bona fide layoff and recall system,” and it was not a legitimate reason for failing to reinstate Kersten.

What you need to know: Recent court decisions indicate that the MPLA has a very expansive reach and will be liberally interpreted to allow parenting leave. Specifically, based on the Hansen and Kersten cases:

  • 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, s/he is protected by the MPLA.
  • No specific language is required to extend MPLA leave; rather, a specific agreement to reinstate is reached when an employee requests a date to return to work, and the employer consents.
  • A RIF is not a bona fide layoff and recall system that can be used to deny reinstatement to an employee on MPLA leave. 

Managing leaves of absence under the MPLA, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or related statutes can be extremely complicated. Therefore, it is important for employers to establish clear policies and procedures for managing these complicated leave situations and to consult with legal counsel for advice when they arise.

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

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