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House OKs expanded protections under Women’s Economic Security Act

Passed in 2014, the Women’s Economic Security Act provides a profusion of accommodations for nursing and pregnant employees in the workplace.

Updates to this legislation may now be around the corner.

The House passed HF1104, as amended, 70-58 Thursday evening following an impassioned debate. The bill, which would expand protections for workers effective Jan. 1, 2024, now heads to the Senate.

“This is about dignity and respect for workers,” said Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL-Spring Lake Park), the bill sponsor. “This is about making our workplaces welcoming to families.”

Primarily, her bill would expand these protections to include more of the workforce. Currently, the law only applies to employers above certain size thresholds and to workers who have been with the company for at least 12 months. The bill would remove these qualifiers – the protections would now apply to almost all pregnant and breastfeeding workers at all workplaces in Minnesota.

Only one exemption would remain in law following the adoption of an amendment offered by Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano). A worker would have to log 90 days on the job before requesting an unpaid leave of absence during or immediately following pregnancy.

Additionally, nursing mothers and lactating employees would be granted more flexibility for utilizing workplace accommodations. Language that limits their usage to only 12 months after the birth of a child and bars workers from taking breaks to express milk if it would ‘unduly disrupt the operations of the employer’ would be stricken from existing state statute.

Prohibitions on employer retaliation against workers who seek to exercise these rights would be clarified as well. While commonly interpreted as termination, the law would be updated to specifically mention discipline, penalties, threats, coercion, and discrimination as also being disallowed.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) took strong exception to the deletion of the undue disruption caveat.  

“By taking out the undue burden language, it is an unrealistic expectation for job providers,” she said. Neu Brindley unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have kept this language on the books.

Numerous Republicans voiced support for the amendment, arguing the bill’s changes would harm the operations of small businesses and urged DFLers to trust employers to do right by their workers.

Koegel countered that while many small businesses are accommodating the needs of breastfeeding workers, bad actors do exist.

“We’re legislating for the worst of us,” she said.

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