Minneapolis and St. Paul paid sick leave ordinances: What you need to know

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

St. Paul and Minneapolis both passed city ordinances last year that require private employers to provide their workers with paid sick leave to care for themselves or family members. In Minneapolis, the earned leave regulations survived a recent court challenge filed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which is appealing the decision.

The outcome of that legal appeal will likely determine whether the same mandates apply to employers who are based outside the city borders, such as the suburbs, but send workers into the two cities. For both cities, earned leave goes into effect July 1.

The rules allow employees to accrue an hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 80 hours in a two-year period.

Lisa Schmid, an employment attorney with the Minneapolis firm of Nilan Johnson Lewis, has been advising employers how to comply with the two ordinances, which are worded somewhat differently in a few key areas. Her explanatory articles on paid sick leave are posted on the firm’s website.

In January, a Hennepin County judge found Minneapolis was within its legal rights to impose sick leave on private employers, but not on employers based outside the city. In other words, the court found that the city’s jurisdiction does not extend beyond its own borders. What happens now?

LS: The way the ordinances were drafted, they were going to affect everyone in the metro who sent people to Minneapolis or St. Paul. The state chamber (of commerce) challenged the Minneapolis ordinance on a couple grounds. … The court rejected (one argument), but the court did feel that Minneapolis overreached when it tried to extend the application of the ordinance to non-Minneapolis based employers. Granted, that decision is on appeal. So we’ll see.

Because this law goes into effect on July 1 in both cities, there’s some pressure to move quickly. I suspect the Court of Appeals recognizes a timeliness problem here.

Does the St. Paul ordinance also apply to employers based outside the city?

LS: St. Paul has a similar problem. It has the same reach. It says if you work 80 hours within the city of St. Paul, you are a covered employee. That ordinance has not been challenged itself — the (Minnesota Chamber of Commerce) may or may not do that — but they’re probably going to wait and see how things shake out on appeal. I think it makes sense to wait and see what the higher courts say.

Are suburban employers concerned?

LS: Some of my clients work in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, but their home offices are in Eagan. I have clients in the suburbs who send workers into both cities. A lot of employers already had pretty generous policies, but they worry about the record-keeping. I’d say there’s some angst around it.

Some of the smaller employers are going to have to come up with new policies. All of my clients, I advise them to review their policies. The big, national employers are worried about the ‘patchwork’ quality — complying with 50 different laws across the country.

Are other cities rolling out paid sick leave?

LS: Duluth is just starting the process. It seems to be growing. (Elsewhere in the country), a good number of cities, and some states, already have done this. California has mandated this. … What’s hard for clients is the piecemeal nature of it. If you’re a national employer, trying to comply with the law in Seattle, the law in Minneapolis, the law in Chicago is going to be difficult.

There’s proposed state legislation in the House and Senate that would block cities from mandating paid sick leave, minimum wage increases or other benefits in excess of the state mandates. Couldn’t those bills block these new rules entirely?

LS: I suspect it will pass both bodies. But Gov. Dayton is very unlikely to sign that.

Are the two ordinances different in Minneapolis and St. Paul?

LS: The biggest difference is Minneapolis exempts small employers. Five or (fewer) employees, you only have to provide unpaid leave.

Another difference is St. Paul kept in a ‘private right of action’ for retaliation claims. Minneapolis does not. If you go to court in St. Paul and file a claim saying (your employer) retaliated against (you) for exercising rights under this law, that’s a lawsuit. … If the plaintiff wins, they’re entitled to their attorneys’ fees. That’s where you tend to get burned as an employer. The fee-shifting encourages plaintiffs’ attorneys to bring small claims.

That’s why a lot of people were really troubled by St. Paul’s inclusion of a private right of action. It’s really unusual. It’s less common. … But probably more and more cities are going to add a private right of action.

Also, St. Paul actually gave a grace period for employers with 23 or fewer employees to provide unpaid leave until Jan. 1, 2018 — so they get a six-month grace period.

The ordinances exempt public employees — such as state, county and federal workers — who are not employed by the cities themselves. Are unions that negotiate their own collective bargaining agreements also exempt from the earned sick leave policies?

LS: (No.) I have clients that negotiated collective bargaining agreements — so union contracts — and now they have to go back and negotiate them again.

Are the cities going to help employers sort out all of these details?

LS: Regulations are coming down for both laws this spring, and hopefully some clarity will come down. The city of Minneapolis has been slow, I think, in issuing guidelines compared to other entities. St. Paul has been a little more timely. They made it very clear on their website what has happening. I think St. Paul did a much better job of communicating their plan.

This article originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. To view the original article, please click here

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