News

Law Expands Workplace Protections for Pregnant Women, Nursing Mothers

October 08, 2021

Pregnant woman working at computerDuring its June special session, the Minnesota Legislature passed amendments to the existing state statutes governing workplace protections for nursing mothers and pregnancy. These amendments go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Nursing Mothers

Minnesota Statutes, Section 181.939 currently requires employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time to an employee to express breast milk in a private room or other location in close proximity to the work area. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide break time if to do so would unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.

Effective Jan. 1, 2022, an employer cannot reduce an employee’s compensation for time taken to express milk. Although breaks must, where possible, run concurrently with breaks already provided, including existing unpaid breaks, an employer cannot cut pay, require an employee to make up time used to express milk or require an employee to use paid leave benefits to express milk.1

Additionally, the new amendments change the requirement of “reasonable unpaid break time” to “reasonable break times,” (plural) clearly indicating that an employee must be provided multiple breaks to express breast milk if needed.

The new amendments also limit the statutorily required break times to during the 12 months following birth of a child. This change closer aligns the Minnesota law to the federal requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act related to break time for nursing mothers.2

The requirement to provide breaks for nursing mothers applies to all employers regardless of the number of employees.

Pregnancy Accommodations

Included in the 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) are provisions related to pregnancy accommodation (Minnesota Statutes, Section 181.9414). The statute provides that a pregnant employee is automatically entitled to the following accommodations upon request, without documentation from a licensed health care provider or certified doula:

  • More frequent restroom, food and water breaks
  • Seating
  • Limits on lifting more than 20 pounds

An employer may not deny a request for the previously listed three reasonable accommodations based upon the argument that granting the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

For all other requests, such as a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, or a lifting limit under 20 pounds, the employee needs to have documentation from a licensed health care provider or certified doula advising the accommodation. The employer and employee must engage in an interactive process with respect to the request for an accommodation.

Employers do not need to provide a requested accommodation if the employer demonstrates that it would impose an undue hardship. An employer is not required to create a new or additional position to accommodate the pregnant employee. Nor is an employer required to discharge any employee, transfer any other employee with greater seniority or promote any employee.

Amendments passed this year move the pregnancy accommodation statute into Minnesota Statutes, Section 181.939 as subdivision 2. Although the general text of the law did not change, this move and a corresponding amendment changes the definitions of “employer” and “employee” for purposes of pregnancy accommodation.

Effective Jan. 1, 2022, the law applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including the state and its political subdivisions. Currently the law applies to employers that employ 21 or more employees at one site.

The statute’s realignment also confirms a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision3 that pregnancy accommodations under this statute are not limited to employees who have worked for an employer for at least 12 months at one-half time. All pregnant employees are entitled to request accommodations regardless of their length of employment.

Members are encouraged to contact their human resources professional or legal counsel for more information about pregnancy accommodation.

1 Women’s Economic Security FAQs, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI.mn.gov/business/employment-practices/womens-economic-security-act-faqs), retrieved Sept. 17, 2021.

2 More information about the federal law requiring break time for nursing mothers can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website: DOL.gov/agencies/whd/nursing-mothers.

3Hinrichs-Cady v. Hennepin County, 943 N.W.2d 417, 423 (Minn. Ct. App. 2020), review granted (June 30, 2020), appeal dismissed as improvidently granted, 961 N.W.2d 777 (Minn. 2021).