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Minneapolis sick leave ruling could affect Duluth

A recent court order striking down part of Minneapolis' earned sick and safe time ordinance could have implications for Duluth, where city councilors have been working to craft a similar ordinance for months.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Mel I. Dickstein ruled that Minneapolis lacked authority to require non-resident employers who did business in the city to comply with its earned sick and safe time ordinance and provide time-off benefits to their workers.

In the case brought by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, Dickstein upheld Minneapolis' authority to regulate businesses physically located within city limits. But he found it unreasonable for Minneapolis to require outside businesses with employees working in the city 80 hours or more per year to provide earned sick and safe time benefits.

Dickstein noted that, as workers in Minneapolis accrue paid time off at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, an employee who logged 80 hours in the city in the course of a year would earn 2-2/3 hours of time off. At that rate, a person would need to work three years to earn a single eight-hour day of time off.

He wrote: "Any potential benefit to the health and safety of Minneapolis residents from an employee who works the requisite 80 hours pales when weighed against the imposition of record keeping and administrative obligations incurred by companies located outside the city."

Duluth's draft ordinance also applies to non-resident employers with people working in the city. But it sets a higher bar in terms of how much work qualifies a person to receive earned sick and safe time benefits. The proposed ordinance would apply to "any person employed by an employer who performs work within the geographic boundaries of the city for more than 50 percent of the employee's working time in a 12-month period or is based in the city of Duluth and spends a substantial part of his or her time working in the city and does not spend more than 50 percent of their work-time in a 12-month period in any other particular place."

Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said he is aware of the recent Minneapolis decision, is reviewing it and will advise city councilors on any implications it could have on their proposed local ordinance. He would not offer any opinion Wednesday as to whether the draft ordinance ran afoul of the ruling.

"There's a pretty complex legal framework out there that we need to make sure the ordinance fits within," he said, adding that there are few "bright lines" to provide guidance.

Dickstein found Minneapolis' ordinance too far-reaching and wrote: "In the final analysis, the ordinance casts its net too far."

But he suggested a less aggressive ordinance might pass muster.

"It is one thing to impose tracking and record keeping requirements on companies located outside of Minneapolis whose employees work for significant periods in Minneapolis and will materially benefit from the Minneapolis ordinance. It is quite another matter to impose, extraterritorially, requirements regarding employees who rarely work in Minneapolis and who won't materially benefit from its provisions," the judge wrote.

Johnson noted that other litigation remains in progress and more legal decisions are yet to come. "That's just the environment that we're working within."

Despite some degree of uncertainty in an emerging legal landscape, Johnson said: "We always endeavor to make sure that the activities of the city and our ordinances comply with the law, even if the law is evolving."