Minneapolis and St. Paul recently passed new and historic sick pay ordinances aimed at alleviating the dilemma that some workers face in having to choose between whether to go to work sick or stay at home and risk their jobs or income. While employers located outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul might be tempted to ignore the new laws, the laws are drafted to reach beyond these cities and to potentially effect the sick leave practices of employers throughout Minnesota.
What are the new rules?
Both ordinances mandate protected sick leave rights for any employee — whether temporary, part-time or full-time — who works at least 80 hours per year within the cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul.
Under the Minneapolis ordinance, which goes into effect on July 1, 2017, any employer with six or more employees must provide paid sick leave to an eligible employee. Employers with fewer than six employees must also provide sick leave to an eligible employee, but time off may be unpaid.
Under the St. Paul ordinance, all employers, regardless of size, must provide paid sick leave to an eligible employee and meet other record-keeping requirements. The St. Paul ordinance is effective July 1, 2017, for employers with 24 or more employees, while smaller employers are not obligated to provide paid sick leave under the ordinance until July 1, 2018.
The new Minneapolis and St. Paul ordinances permit job-protected time off for an employee’s own illness or injury, as well as for medical appointments, to care for a sick family member, for certain situations involving domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking, and to care for the employee’s child whose school or day care center is closed.
Other key features of the new ordinances include:
• Eligible employees will accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 48 hours per year.
• Eligible employees begin accruing sick time immediately upon hire and may begin using accrued sick time after 90 days of employment.
• Employers have the option of “frontloading” sick time by providing 48 hours or more to employees following their first 90 days of employment and 80 hours of sick time per year thereafter.
• Unused sick time does not have to be paid out when employment ends, but eligible employees may carry over unused sick time from year to year, up to maximum accrual of 80 hours of sick time.
• Under the Minneapolis ordinance, from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2022, newly established businesses (other than chain establishments) have a one-year grace period before they must start providing paid sick leave, but they must provide unpaid sick leave to eligible employees right away.
• Under the St. Paul ordinance, from July 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2023, newly established businesses have a six-month grace period before they must start providing paid sick leave, but must provide unpaid sick leave to eligible employees right away.
• Retaliation against eligible employees for taking sick leave is prohibited.
Notably, the new sick time and pay requirements are mandated regardless of whether an employee’s regular worksite is located within the boundaries of Minneapolis or St. Paul or the employee has a home base outside of these cities. If an employee — a delivery driver for example — travels into and works at least 80 hours a year within Minneapolis, the Minneapolis ordinance provides that the employee is covered by the ordinance. The same is true of the St. Paul ordinance.
A new normal for employees
Employers should also be mindful that, while the new ordinances technically only apply to employees working at least 80 hours per year in either Minneapolis or St. Paul, expanding sick leave benefits for other workers may end up being prudent for some employers as a practical matter.
Some companies with employees working both inside and outside of the Twin Cities may elect to alter sick leave policies for all employees to avoid the headache of having to administer different sick leave policies for different sets of employees. Employers may also consider voluntarily modifying policies to minimize employee complaints and to offer equal benefits to all staff.
While business reactions to the new ordinances are mixed, there is some good news for employers. The ordinances do provide almost a full year to prepare to comply. There is also a pending legal challenge to the Minneapolis ordinance, which, if successful, could halt that ordinance altogether.
Employers inside and outside Minneapolis and St. Paul should begin, however, to work with their legal counsel to assess whether they have employees covered by the new rules and if so, what this means for them.
As noted above, the new ordinances are similar, but also contain some nuanced differences and contain damage and penalty provisions that can be imposed for noncompliance.
In addition, paid sick leave laws are a growing trend across the state and country, so businesses should stay tuned for potential additional obligations outside the Twin Cities.
Megan Anderson and Neil Goldsmith are attorneys at Gray Plant Mooty.