2013 Minnesota Labor and Employment Update

Minnesota employers, take note:  laws that impact you are changing this year. Not only did the Minnesota legislature recently expand the use of employee sick leave (as we blogged about here) and legalize same-sex marriage, but several other changes occurred this year that may directly impact your business.  Here's a quick round up of some of the most important new laws enacted by the legislature affecting Minnesota employers.

Criminal Background Checks

Perhaps the most notable change is, beginning January 1, 2014, most Minnesota employers must change their standard employment applications and hiring practices related to use of a job applicant's criminal history. The new "ban the box" law, which refers to the check box on most employment applications asking about an applicant's criminal history, will bar private employers from asking about or considering an applicant's criminal history until (1) the applicant is selected for an interview or (2) if there is no interview, the applicant receives a conditional offer of employment. Employers who have a statutory duty to conduct criminal history investigations or otherwise consider criminal history in the employment process, such as school districts and many health and human services providers, are exempt from the new law.

When the law goes into effect, Minnesota employers who previously required all applicants to disclose criminal history will need to defer the inquiry until further into the interview process.

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Minnesota Legislature Expands Employee Right To Use Sick Leave To Care For Family Members

Minnesota employers who offer sick leave benefits take note:  employees can use benefits to care for sick family members. 

The Minnesota Sick or Injured Child Care Leave Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.9413, permits an employee to use personal sick leave benefits for absences due to the injury or illness of the employee's child.  Child is defined as "an individual under 18 years of age or an individual under age 20 who is still attending secondary school."  Minn. Stat. § 181.940.   A recent amendment to the statute, however, will allow an employee to use sick leave benefits to care for other family members as well. 

Effective August 1, 2013, employees may use personal sick leave benefits to provide care for a sick or injured minor or adult child (including a biological, adopted, foster, or stepchild), and also a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, or stepparent, on the same terms upon which the employee may use sick leave for him or herself.  An employer may limit the use of sick leave for an employee's adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, or stepparent to no less than 160 hours in a 12-month period.  No limit may be placed on sick leave for a minor child.

Two notable limitations to the law exist.  First, the law does not require employers to provide sick leave benefits.  It merely states that employers offering sick leave benefits must extend the benefits to absences resulting from the illness or injury of an employee's family member.  And, second, the law applies only to employers with 21 or more employees. 

Employers who are subject to the amended statute are advised to update their employee handbooks and sick leave policies, and train managers and supervisors on the new law.

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Minnesota Wal-Mart Employees Get $54 Million Christmas Present

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced yesterday that it will pay $54.25 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over allegations that Wal-Mart made its employees work during break time and off the clock after regular working hours.  The class consists of approximately 100,000 current and former hourly employees who worked at Minnesota Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs between September 11, 1998 and November 14, 2008.  Click here to read MSNBC's coverage of the settlement

This isn't Wal-Mart's first major settlement, and it might not be the last:  according to Wal-Mart's 10-K filings with the SEC, it has to date settled 76 similar class-action lawsuits across the country.  The lesson for employers?  Carefully follow the wage and hour laws of each state in which you do business.  If you have employees in Minnesota, the state's Department of Labor and Industries has a great website with lots of valuable compliance tips and information.