With Congress in gridlock, we haven’t seen any federal laws impacting employment law for several years. Instead, we’ve now started to see a lot more action at the state legislative level where proposals to modify everything from family leave to the minimum wage are being passed in, it seems, increasing numbers.

Therefore, what happens in other states is becoming much more important.  For instance, we saw that Connecticut was considering an immigration-related employment bill that was modeled on laws in other states. 

Because of this, and because many employers now have businesses in multiple states, I’ve asked my friend, Courtney Ward-Reichard, a shareholder at Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis, to share her insights about a pretty broad employment law bill that was just signed into law earlier this week in Minnesota.  While Connecticut already has adopted some of these items, others may be on the horizon, such as lowering the employee threshhold for family leave to 20 or more employees. After all, if one state has passed it, propoants can argue that Connecticut’s passage won’t put us as a competitive disadvantage when compared with similar states. 

In any event, my thanks to Courtney for her insights here.

On May 11, 2014, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed landmark legislation – a group of bills that became known as the Women’s Economic Security Act (“WESA”). WESA will most directly affect employers with operations and employees in Minnesota. But employers in Connecticut and elsewhere should take note: this legislation – or its components – may well serve as a model in other states.

Here are the most significant changes:

• Creates new protected class for familial status: WESA expands the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) by adding familial status as a new protected class. Employers will likely face new state charges and lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of this status, and victorious plaintiffs may seek not only damages, but also their attorneys’ fees. This expansion makes Minnesota unusual, as federal law and most states’ laws do not include familial status as a protected class. This change became effective the day after Governor Dayton signed the bill.

• Expands pregnancy and parenting leave: Covered employers (with over 20 employees) must provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees for: 1) the birth or adoption of a child; or 2) prenatal care, or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions (for female employees). Employees may take the first type of leave within twelve months of the birth/after the child leaves the hospital. These changes will be effective July 1, 2014, and will affect numerous employers who are not covered by the federal FMLA. Employers will be allowed to require employees to use their sick leave during parental leave, and the leave will also run concurrently with any FMLA leave.

Continue Reading Guest Post: Women’s Economic Security Act May Serve As Model for Other States

Over the last week, two unrelated stories caught my eye.  For employers, they are a reminder that claims of pay inequality based on gender are still something to be concerned about. 

Photo Courtesy Library of Congress c. 1943

The first story is that Governor Malloy announced plans for a new study to examine “factors that contribute to the gender wage gap in Connecticut’s workforce.” 

The study will be run by  new Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer and Department of Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith.  The Governor has asked the commissioners to make recommendations on the issue by October 2013.   

I’ve talked about this issue before; there are some who believe that the wage gap is overstated.  But the study will make headlines this year and this renewed focus in Connecticut on the issue should have employers revisiting their own practices.

The second story illustrates the claim in much more real world terms and shows the perils of trying to navigate your way through such claims. 

In Morse v. Pratt & Whitney, decided last week, a federal court — among other issues — denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an Title VII unequal pay claim.

Continue Reading Gender Inequality Claims Make Headlines in Case and in New Study