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'Sick and safe time' requirement hits snag in Minnesota Senate

The Senate was set to advance a requirement for businesses to offer 48 hours of paid time each year for illness, medical appointments, child care, or help for domestic abuse.

Minnesota Senate - 013122
Minnesota senators were expected to vote on a jobs and labor package Monday.
Dana Ferguson / 2022 file / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — A bill that would create a new paid sick time requirement in Minnesota will get more review from a legislative committee after coming close to a vote of the full Senate.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers say their jobs and labor package aims to protect worker safety and economic well-being. To that end, their bill creates a sick time mandate, new workplace safety regulations for warehouse and meatpacking workers, and a new nursing home work standards board.

But Republicans said since the language on sick time only passed in a House bill, it violated Senate rules. Following debate on the issue Monday afternoon, bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, moved to return the bill to a conference committee of the Senate and House for more discussion.

The "sick and safe time" provision in the bill requires Minnesota employers to offer 48 hours of paid time each year for illness, medical appointments, child care or seeking help for domestic abuse. Around 900,000 workers in Minnesota do not have any paid time off, and most of them are low-wage, supporters say.

“The ability to take care of yourself when you’re sick or to take care of a sick kid or go to the doctor without forgoing a paycheck should be a basic, fundamental expectation,” said Rep. Liz Olson, a Duluth DFLer who backed a version of the bill that passed in the House in February.

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Liz Olson
Rep. Liz Olson
Contributed / Andy Hardman

Sixteen states have adopted a paid sick and safe time policy and some cities in Minnesota already have a similar policy in place. Duluth requires businesses with five or more employees to offer sick time. Bloomington, St. Paul and Minneapolis also require the benefit.

While the House passed the sick time bill in February, it did not get a vote in the Senate as its own bill. Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, said senators agreed to include the sick time after discussions in a joint committee with House members as they worked to smooth over differences in their labor packages.

Jen McEwen.jpg
Sen. Jen McEwen

But now, DFL Senators and House lawmakers will return to their joint committee and revisit the inclusion of sick time with the aim of addressing rules issues. Once it's been revised and the House and Senate pass the same labor package, it would head to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz, who supports paid sick time. But it was not immediately clear on Monday night what DFL lawmakers planned to do with the sick time language.

Republican opponents and critics from the business community say the sick time bill is yet another burdensome mandate being pushed by DFL lawmakers and the governor, who won full control of state government in November.

Paid sick and safe time is just one part of the picture. A proposal to create a paid family medical leave program would provide 12 weeks of paid leave for medical reasons and 12 weeks of leave for family reasons, such as the birth of a child.

Supporters of the “sick and safe” time bill say it's important to have a separate pool of paid leave time, as paid family and medical leave is intended for long-term life events.

Another concern of Republicans is that the sick time requirement will hurt smaller businesses that may not have the means to offer leave to employees.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce opposes sick and safe time, pointing to the risks that could come from added workplace regulations and mandates, especially as the state inches closer to creating a paid family and medical leave program funded by $1.5 billion or more in new taxes.

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‘Sick and safe time’

The sick and safe time proposal would apply to both part-time and full-time workers. It would take six weeks for a full-time employee to earn the equivalent of one day off. Employees would be able to carry over unused paid time off each year and bank a total of 80 hours.

Employers who offer paid time off plans would not have to make any changes as long as their benefits meet or exceed the new requirement in the bill. Independent contractors and pilots and flight attendants who spend less than half their time in Minnesota each year are not included in the requirement.

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Businesses that fail to provide the benefit could face a fine of up to $10,000 per violation or for not providing documentation of their leave policy to the state. Enforcement would be the responsibility of the Department of Labor and Industry.

Labor safety

Paid “sick and safe time” is the most sweeping change in the labor bill, but it also contains new workplace safety regulations and boosts staffing for Minnesota’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

A new Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board would create new minimum standards for the industry, including setting a minimum wage for nursing home employees. It would be composed of nine members: three from the state, three from employers and three nursing home workers.

To address safety at nursing homes, meatpacking plants and warehouses like Amazon distribution centers, the bill requires employers to create “ergonomics” programs to identify activities that cause injuries and ways to prevent them from happening.

The bill would give meatpacking employees a legal right to refuse to work under dangerous conditions and continue to receive pay. Minnesota would also appoint a meatpacking industry worker rights coordinator to investigate ways to improve work conditions at meat plants.

New warehouse rules would require employers with more than 250 workers to provide workers with written notice of productivity quotas and would ban quotas that would interfere with breaks. It would also require employees to provide work speed and quota data to any employee upon request.

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Similar legislation passed on its own in the DFL-controlled House last year, but did not advance in the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans.

This story was updated at 6:25 p.m. May 15 with progress from bill debate Monday night. It was originally posted at 4:54 p.m. May 15.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com .

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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