October 22, 2015

Nursing Mothers’ Rights

Posted in Breastfeeding & Nursing Mothers' Rights, Discrimination, Gender / Sex tagged , , , , , , at 10:21 am by Tom Jacobson

BabyThough it’s been done since the beginning of time, breastfeeding in public made waves this summer when our local paper asked for comments from its readers (see It’s Your Turn: Facebook readers share thoughts on breastfeeding, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015; A mom’s dilemma, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015). The waves have calmed, but they exposed misunderstanding about nursing mothers’ rights. Let’s clear the air, in particular with regard to the rights of mothers who need to express breast milk while at work.

First, nursing a child in public is perfectly legal in Minnesota. Breastfeeding is an exception to the state’s prohibition of indecent exposure.

Second, mothers who need to express breast milk while at work have the right to do so in most Minnesota workplaces. This has been the law in Minnesota since 1998, but these rights were expanded in 2014 as a part of the Women’s Economic Security Act. The following will address some of the most common questions about this law.

What basic benefit does the law require employers to provide? Employers must provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.

 

When must the break be provided? The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee.

 

What space must the employer provide for the break? The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.

 

Are there any exceptions to the law? Yes. An employer is not required to provide break time under this law if doing so would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations.

 

Are all Minnesota employers covered by this law? Yes. The law defines “employer” to include “a person or entity that employs one or more employees and includes the state and its political subdivisions.”

 

What other protections does the law provide to employees? Employers must not retaliate against an employee for asserting rights or remedies the law.

 

What remedies are available to an employee if an employer breaks this law? Employees may bring a civil action to recover monetary damages, plus their court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. They may also seek injunctive and other equitable relief to be determined by a court.

 

Is there a state agency that could get involved in disputes regarding this law? Yes. The Minnesota Department of Labor’s Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship has been given the authority to receive complaints of employees against employers relating to this law. The division’s role is to attempt to resolve employee complaints by informing employees and employers of the provisions of the law and directing employers to comply with it. The division is required contact the employer within two business days and investigate the complaint within ten days of receipt of the complaint.

For more information about the rights of nursing mothers or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these rights, 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 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

July 1, 2014

Key provisions of WESA take effect July 1

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Employee Handbooks, Employee Privacy, Equal Pay, Gender / Sex, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Nursing Mothers, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy, Retaliation, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Wage non-disclosure, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , , at 12:56 pm by Tom Jacobson

2014_05_11_WESA_signingAlthough Gov. Mark Dayton signed it into law on May 11, 2014 the following key provisions of the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) go into effect today:

  • Expansion of Minnesota’s parenting and pregnancy leave laws: More employees are now eligible for this leave, and the amount of available leave has been increased from six to twelve weeks. Applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees.
  • Expansion of permissible use of sick leave: Parents-in-law and grandchildren are now included in the list of persons for whom eligible employees may use their sick leave. Employees may also use sick leave for “safety leave,” which is leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking. Applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees.
  • Wage disclosure prohibitions; employee handbook notice requirement; remedies: Prohibits employers from, among other things, requiring employees to keep their wages confidential. Requires employers to include in their employee handbooks a notice regarding employees’ rights and remedies under the new law. Allows employers to prohibit wage disclosure to competitors and to otherwise protect trade secrets, proprietary and other privileged information. Applies to all Minnesota employers with one or more employees.
  • Clarifies rights of nursing mothers: Clarifies that when making reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location for expressing breast milk in privacy, that space must: be in close proximity to the work area; be somewhere other than a bathroom or a toilet stall; be shielded from view; be free from intrusion from coworkers and the public; and include access to an electrical outlet.  Applies to all Minnesota employers with one or more employees.

This is only a summary of portions of WESA that take effect today. Other provisions of WESA went into effect on May 12, 2014; more will take effect August 1, 2014. To learn how WESA may impact your workplace, 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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

May 9, 2014

Legislative update: MHRA jury trials and Women’s Economic Security Act advance

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Court Trial, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Family Leave, Jury Trial, Leaves of Absence, Nursing Mothers, Parenting Leave, Remedies, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 9:26 am by Tom Jacobson

Both houses of the Minnesota Legislature on May 8, 2014 took action to advance legislation which, if signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton, will have significant impacts on Minnesota employers and employees.

First, with a 43-24 vote the Senate approved the Women’s Economic Security Act (HF2536) which, among other things, would expand parenting and sick leave rights. For more information on this bill, see Women’s Economic Security Act Passed by MN House.

Then, with a 79-51 vote the House approved the Senate’s amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) (SF 2322). This amendment would add the right to a jury trial as a remedy under the MHRA. For more information on this bill, see Minnesota Senate Adds Jury Trial Right to Minnesota Human Rights Act.

For more information about this legislation, 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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

April 24, 2014

Women’s Economic Security Act Passed by MN House

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Caregiver Leave, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Employee Handbooks, Equal Pay, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Gender / Sex, Leaves of Absence, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Nursing Mothers, Pregnancy, Reasonable Accommodation, Workplace Violence tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:32 am by Tom Jacobson

The Minnesota House of Representatives on April 9, 2014 passed the Women’s Economic Security Act (HF 2536) by a 106-24 vote. The companion Senate bill (SF 2050) awaits action in the Senate.

According to the Senate’s bill summary, the law will:

  • Allow mothers to stay in the workplace by expanding family leave and providing minor, reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees;
  • Decrease the gender pay gap through the participation of women in high-wage, high-demand nontraditional work;
  • Reduce the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors and by allowing employees to discuss pay inequities;
  • Address economic consequences of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault;
  • Enhance retirement security by considering a state retirement savings plan for those without an employer-provided option
  • Expand grandparent care-giving options.

The law would also allow employers to reduce the period of leave it may require by the amount of any paid leave or leave required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), so that the total time off does not exceed 12 weeks. The new law would clarify that only 12 weeks of leave are required even if the employee is eligible for both state and federal leave.

What you need to know: If enacted into law, this legislation will require most Minnesota employers to take a close look at their existing policies and procedures and to make any changes necessary to bring them into compliance.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

February 16, 2012

Discrimination against lactation? Federal judge throws out nursing mom’s case

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, Nursing Mothers tagged , , , , , at 9:33 pm by Tom Jacobson

Donnecia Venters was fired by Houston Funding after she announced her intent to express breast milk for her newborn daughter in a back office at work after her maternity leave ended.  According to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In its press release announcing the lawsuit, EEOC’s Houston District Director R.J. Ruff, Jr., said, “Employers cannot discriminate against working mothers because of medical conditions related to their pregnancy or childbirth.” To this, EEOC’s Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher added, “This lawsuit will send a message to employers that the EEOC will vigorously enforce federal law by prosecuting companies which deny equal opportunity to women.”

U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes, who is presiding over the case, did not see it that way.  In what some are describing as a controversial decision (see
Lactation discrimination? Judge says firing women for breast-pumping is legal), he dismissed the suit.  In his February 2, 2012 opinion, Judge Hughes wrote, “Firing someone because of lactation or breast pumping is not sex discrimination.”  He also concluded that “…the law does not punish lactation discrimination.”

Employers should not, however, interpret Judge Hughes’ decision as a free pass for lactation discrimination because it appears likely that his decision will be appealed.  Also, based on a related report, Unlawful Discrimination Based on Pregnancy and Caregiving Responsibilities Widespread Problem, Panelists Tell EEOC, the EEOC appears poised to aggressively pursue similar cases.

Moreover, other laws protect the rights of nursing mothers.  For example, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires covered employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.  Similarly, in many states, including Minnesota, employers are required by statute to provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.  Both the FLSA and the corresponding Minnesota statute have other provisions regarding the facilities that must be provided, the employers to which the laws apply, and undue hardship exceptions.

What you need to know:  Employers must carefully consider the needs of nursing mothers.  Despite one federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit alleging lactation discrimination, those mothers may be protected by state and federal anti-discrimination laws.  Moreover, the FLSA and various state laws give additional rights to nursing mothers.

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 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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