Required Update to Minnesota Employee Handbooks
Employee Handbooks can be an invaluable tool in setting expectations for both employers and employees in the workplace. Workplace practices, drug testing, leave-taking policies and disciplinary procedures are just a few of many areas in which an Employee Handbook can be beneficial. And, while Employee Handbooks are obviously a helpful introduction to an employer’s culture for employees, they can also be a great starting point for business owners thinking through the formal policies they want in place for their managers and employees.
However, Employee Handbooks can be a trap for the unwary. They can land an employer in hot water when drafted without a full knowledge of Minnesota and Federal laws – laws which are often protective of employee rights. Because of our institutional knowledge and ability to keep up to date on new rules and regulations, Siegel Brill offers a great resource for clients thinking about implementing an Employee Handbook, or for those clients who have an Employee Handbook but want to keep up with changes in the law that might affect their current policies.
One such recent change comes from the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA). Under WESA, employers in Minnesota are now required to include certain language in all Employee Handbooks. The act provides new protections for employees, and has implications on employee leave policies, wage disclosure, and required employer accommodations for pregnant and nursing women. It is important for employers to be aware of the law in order to avoid inadvertently denying employee rights, which can lead to civil fines and penalties.
Under WESA, employers with 21 or more employees are now required to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid pregnancy and parental leave to an employee who has worked at least half-time for a period of at least twelve months. While this leave may be unpaid, employees are entitled to return to their same job and position upon returning from pregnancy or parental leave. Additionally, employees who meet WESA requirements may be eligible for “sick and safe” leave, which may be taken to care for a sick family member, or to receive assistance related to sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking.
WESA further expands the protections available to pregnant and nursing employees by requiring certain accommodations for eligible pregnant women upon request (including additional restroom, food and water breaks), and entitling nursing mothers to unpaid breaks for pumping, as well as private, non-restroom space in which to do so.
Finally, WESA codifies employees’ rights to discuss wages. Of particular importance, the statute mandates that “an employer that provides an employee handbook to its employees must include in the handbook notice of employee rights and remedies” regarding the new wage disclosure law.
The bottom line is that an up-to-date Employee Handbook can be a great protection for both employers and employees, and a wonderful tool for business management. A good Employee Handbook clearly delineates employer expectations while providing employers with written guidelines that help avoid inadvertent violations of state and federal law.