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July 1, 2014

Women's Economic Security Act takes effect today



New state law will expand economic opportunity for women in Minnesota

St. Paul, Minn. -- Today, several more provisions take effect from legislation that was passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton on Mother's Day 2014. The Women's Economic Security Act (WESA) strengthens workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant women and nursing mothers, expands employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand occupations and reduces the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws. New increased pregnancy accommodation and familial status protections under WESA went into effect May 12.

"It should not require a law to ensure that women are treated fairly in the workplace or that they are paid equally for their work," said Gov. Dayton. "However, too many women still experience serious economic disparities, unfair gender barriers and other workplace discrimination in our state. For all of them, this law is vitally important and long overdue."

"By signing the Women's Economic Security Act, Gov. Dayton has significantly expanded protections for women in the workplace," said Kevin Lindsey, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR). "These new laws and measures make a strong statement about Minnesota's commitment to gender equality. The Women's Economic Security Act promises a better future for Minnesota's women and their families, and helps ensure all Minnesotans have the opportunity to contribute to our state and our shared prosperity."

"The new law will support families," said Ken Peterson, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI). "Workers are granted leave to take care of their loved ones and new training opportunities are given to women to help better provide for their families."

Pregnancy accommodations and familial status protections
Already in force since WESA's adoption in May 2014 are provisions increasing pregnancy accommodation protections and protecting workers from discrimination based on their "familial status." The new pregnancy accommodations provisions are enforced by DLI and complement existing pregnancy protections and the new familial status protections under the Minnesota Human Rights Act enforced by MDHR. Protecting familial status in employment means it is now illegal for employers to discriminate against employees for being pregnant or having a minor child living at home.

Pregnancy leave and nursing mothers
WESA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. Employers must make a reasonable effort to provide a private area and a reasonable unpaid break time for mothers to express breast milk for her infant child. The law creates new protections for employees seeking to assert rights or remedies if a violation occurs in the workplace.

Ensuring equal pay to close gender pay gap
Effective Aug. 1, 2014, WESA provides equal pay laws to close the gender pay gap:

  • through increased enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors by requiring businesses with 40 or more employees seeking state contracts of more than $500,000 to certify they pay equal wages to workers regardless of gender;
  • to ensure the rights of employees to voluntarily discuss their compensation without fear of retaliation from their employers; and
  • to target discrimination in hiring, promotion and retention, and to address the "motherhood penalty" via protections that require businesses to make such decisions regardless of familial status (pregnant women and parents and legal guardians of children under 18 who live with them).

Sick and safe leave
WESA expands family and sick leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act from six to 12 weeks and allows use of leave during pregnancy. It also allows grandparents to use existing earned sick leave to care for an ill or injured grandchild.

For victims of domestic violence, the WESA law allows employees to use existing earned sick leave to recover from sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking and will expand unemployment insurance eligibility on Oct. 5, 2014, to include victims of stalking and sexual assault.

Workforce recruitment and training
WESA expands support for employers, workforce organizations and others to recruit, prepare, place and retain women in nontraditional occupations and apprenticeships, especially low-income and older women. Plus, it supports the development of high-economic-impact, women-owned businesses in nontraditional industries.

Retirement security
WESA enhances retirement security by initiating a study of a state retirement savings plan for those without an employer-provided option.

Resources

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News media contacts:
James Honerman, DLI
(651) 284-5313

Christine DuFour, MDHR
(651) 539-1118

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