Politics and Government

MN House passes paid sick and safe time bill

Person speaks at podium
Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, spoke to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday, ahead of a House vote on her proposal to expand access to sick and safe time for workers.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota workers could accumulate earned sick and safe time to take care of themselves or a loved one under a bill that the House of Representatives passed Thursday evening.

Under the proposal, an employee could earn up to one hour of time off for every 30 hours they work with a cap of 48 hours each year. So after six weeks, a worker could earn one 8-hour day off.

After extensive debate the House passed the bill 69-54. It is also moving toward a vote in the Minnesota Senate. DFL leaders there, along with Gov. Tim Walz, have said they support it.

The bill expands on existing sick and safe time standards and includes part-time workers under the program. And it sets a penalty for employers who fail to honor earned time off under specified conditions or who retaliate against workers who try to take their time off.

Four Minnesota cities – Bloomington, Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul – have already adopted similar policies. As many as 900,000 Minnesota workers could benefit from the change.

Supporters, including DFL lawmakers, workers who currently don’t have coverage through their workplace, and some small business owners, said the COVID-19 pandemic made clear the need to establish a pathway for workers to build up time to take off if they get sick or need to seek medical treatment.

And they said that workers shouldn’t have to choose between caring for themselves and loved ones and their jobs.

“In Minnesota, we know we care about one another. We all want to live in a state where people and families can be healthy and safe. But the reality of life is that everyone gets sick at one point or another,”  bill author Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, said. “When we do get sick, workers should have the basic right to stay home for the sake of their own health and well being or that of their child who may be ill, or perhaps if they need the support after an act of violence or trauma.”

DFL lawmakers also said that the proposal could level the playing field between employees around the state and promote equitable access to time off.

“Coming out of the pandemic, it’s so obvious I think to all of us that we don’t want workers coming to work sick,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL- Brooklyn Park, said before the debate. “In a very wealthy state in the wealthiest country in the world, we can afford to provide safe and sick time for employees.”

Republicans echoed concerns from Minnesota business groups that employers have the option to offer sick and safe time now and most work to accommodate providing time off as well as they can.

And imposing a state mandate could be costly and difficult for small businesses to manage, they said.

“Businesses are not the problem, they’re the catalyst to the economy,” Rep. Pam Altendorf, R-Red Wing, said. “We should not be vilifying small businesses. It’s very concerning to me the disconnect that’s happening here in the state Legislature … we cannot continue passing bill after bill, that’s killing our economy.”

GOP lawmakers proposed amendments that would let municipalities pass rules preempting the law, exclude small businesses under a certain employee threshold, and remove part-time and seasonal workers from eligibility. Each of those was voted down by the DFL-led chamber.

Under the proposal, anyone who has worked for an employer for at least 80 hours in a given year would be eligible, though independent contractors would be excluded. Employees could roll over unused time and could bank up to 80 hours, unless employers let them save more than that.

Workers would have to give reasonable notice to take time off. And acceptable uses spelled out in the bill include caring for a workers’ mental or physical health, caring for a family member or taking them to a medical appointment, absence related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking of themselves or a family member, and closure of work, school or child care due to severe weather or an emergency. 

People could also take time off if they’re unable to work remotely after contracting or being exposed to a communicable disease or if they are at risk of infecting others. 

If signed into law, the policy would take effect in 2024.

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