Navigating Minnesota’s 3 paid sick and safe time laws

Duluth recently became the third Minnesota city to enact a paid sick and safe time ordinance, following the lead of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Duluth’s ordinance takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. It differs in key ways from its Twin Cities cousins’.

Who is covered?

Duluth’s ordinance covers private employers with five or more employees. They do not have to work in Duluth for the employer to be covered.

Employees are covered if they:

  1. Work in Duluth more than 50% of their working time in a year or
  2. Are based in Duluth, spend a substantial part of time working in Duluth and do not spend more than 50% of their working time working in any other particular location.

“Substantial” is not defined, leaving employers to guess about who is covered.

The Minneapolis ordinance covers all employers, but permits those with fewer than six employees to provide unpaid leave. St. Paul’s ordinance covers all private employers. The Minneapolis and St. Paul ordinances require employees to work at least 80 hours per year in their jurisdictions to be covered.

All ordinances apply to workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Duluth’s ordinance specifically excludes independent contractors, student interns, seasonal employees and individuals covered by the federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.

Family members covered

All three laws allow leave for substantially the same family members. Specifically, employees may take time off to care for themselves; a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent or parent-in-law; a sibling; or a spouse or domestic partner, as well as any other individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is equivalent to a family relationship.

Amounts of leave

Duluth employees will accrue one hour of leave for every 50 hours worked. Twin Cities employees will accrue one hour for every 30 hours worked.

Duluth employees will be permitted to accrue 64 hours of leave per year, and can carry over 40 hours of leave per year. Employers can be more generous on the carry-over if they elect to. Employees in the Twin Cities can accrue 48 hours per year, up to an overall cap of 80 accrued hours.

All three ordinances have front-loading options.

Instead of accruing leave based on hours worked, Duluth employers can provide 40 hours of front-loaded leave that employees may not carry over into subsequent years. Twin Cities employers can front-load 48 hours during the first year and 80 in each subsequent year. Duluth employers that elect to front-load may do so after the employee has been on the payroll for 90 days and then at the beginning of each subsequent year.

Reasons for leave

All three ordinances allow sick time for mental or physical illnesses or injuries, including chronic health conditions, a medical diagnosis or treatment and preventive medical care.

Duluth’s safe time provisions allow leave for absences due to domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking of an employee or family member, or to provide or receive assistance. The Twin Cities ordinances provide similar benefits, but define circumstances in greater detail.

The key safe time difference is that Duluth’s safe time is capped at 40 hours per year. The Twin Cities laws allow safe time leave up to the total amount of leave available to the employee. For all three, leave must be taken in increments consistent with the employer’s payroll practices if the leave occurs in increments of less than four hours.

Should a Twin Cities business be closed “by order of a public official to limit exposure to an infectious agent, biological toxin, or hazardous material or other public health emergency,” employers must provide paid leave. This is not a valid use of leave under Duluth’s ordinance.

Notice and documentation

Under all three ordinances, employers must provide leave upon the employee’s request. The request must include the leave’s anticipated duration when possible.

Employers may require employees to use the same procedures as are used for other leave requests, as long as doing so does not violate the employee’s rights under the ordinance.

Twin Cites employers may require documentation for leaves lasting longer than three days. Duluth’s ordinance is silent on this issue.

Under all three ordinances, employers may not require employees to find a replacement worker to cover their absence.

The Twin Cities ordinances have specific anti-retaliation provisions that Duluth’s lack. Still, retaliating against an employee for exercising his or her rights will not play well in court.

Recordkeeping and enforcement

All three ordinances require employers to notify employees of their eligibility for sick and safe leave and must tell them how many hours of leave they have available. Records of hours worked must be preserved for three years.

Advice: Other key differences exist. Consult with your attorney to ensure you are in compliance. If you have employees in more than one city, you must tailor leave policies to each city’s ordinance.