Under the Minnesota Parenting Leave Act (“MPLA”), employers with 21 or more employees are required to provide qualified employees with up to six weeks of job protected parenting leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Under the MPLA, employees who are qualified for such leave are those employees who have worked: (1) at least 12 consecutive months immediately preceding the request; and (2) for an average number of hours per week equal to one-half the full-time equivalent position in the employee's job classification as defined by the employer's personnel policies or practices or pursuant to the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement, during those 12 months.
Often employers fail to consider granting employees such leave until an employee specifically references his/her rights to such leave under MPLA. On May 30, 2012, in Hansen v. Robert Half International, Inc., the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that an employee is not required to specifically reference the MPLA or specifically request leave under the MPLA in order to enjoy the protections under the Act. In construing the MPLA liberally, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that an employee is entitled to the protections of the Act when she simply informs her employer of a qualifying reason for the needed leave and is otherwise eligible for such leave. Stated differently, the Court found that a narrow reading of the MPLA would deny an employee the protections of the statute based on the technicality of her failing to expressly invoke the statute.
In Hansen, soon after Hansen was promoted to a new position, her supervisor noted that Hansen’s production numbers dipped below expectations and she was the lowest producer on her team. While her supervisor had periodic meetings with Hansen regarding her poor performance, her performance did not improve. While having performance problems, Hansen was pregnant and notified her supervisor that her doctors advised her that she would have a difficult pregnancy. Upon the birth of her child, Hansen took a maternity leave that began on August 29, 2008. On her first day after returning to work from maternity leave, Hansen was told her job was being eliminated due to a reduction in force caused by the economic downturn. After being terminated, Hansen later sued under the MPLA, claiming Robert Half failed to reinstate her to her position or a comparable position following her maternity leave.
The lower courts dismissed Hansen’s claims. While the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of Hansen’s claims, it rejected the trial court's conclusion that Hansen had no right to reinstatement under the MPLA because she failed to make specific reference to the MPLA when requesting such leave. Instead, the Court found since the employer was aware of Hansen’s need for leave under the MPLA, she was entitled to such job protected leave.
The Hansen case serves as a powerful reminder that employers with 21 or more employees must provide qualified employees with up to six weeks of job protected parenting leave, even if the employee fails to specifically reference his or her rights under the MPLA. Employers should review, and if necessary, update their employee handbook policies and procedures to ensure compliance under the MPLA as well as under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, if applicable. By proactively addressing these policies and procedures now, employers can minimize future litigation.