New for 2024: Minnesota law to grant more workers access to sick and safe time

Daniel Swenson-Klatt, owner of Butter Bakery Cafe, stands for a portrait.
In this file photo Daniel Swenson-Klatt, owner of Butter Bakery Cafe, stands for a portrait inside the cafe in Minneapolis on March 13, 2019. Swenson-Klatt is personally paying for one of his employees to take 3 weeks off when his first child is born.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

Starting in January, Minnesota workers can accumulate short spurts of time off to take care of themselves or a loved one under a new state law.

Under the sick and safe time policy, an employee could earn up to one hour of time off for every 30 hours they work, capped at 48 hours each year. That means after six weeks, a worker could be eligible for an eight-hour day off for qualifying reasons.

The measure passed through the DFL-led Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz. State labor leaders are working to raise awareness about it, while some small business owners say they’re struggling to implement it.

Before the law takes effect, here are some key details:

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How does earned sick and safe time work?

The law expands on existing sick and safe time standards. It also includes part-time workers under the program. Workers who don’t already have 48 hours or more of paid time off or sick time would be able to save up time for every 30 hours they work. 

About one-third of Minnesota’s workforce currently receives less than that 48-hour threshold from an employer each year. The law also 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. 

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. Acceptable uses spelled out in the law include caring for a worker’s 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. 

Four Minnesota cities — Bloomington, Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul — have already adopted similar policies. If a city offers more generous earned sick and safe time benefits, employers operating there would be asked to honor those.

Who is eligible for earned sick and safe time?

Anyone who has worked for an employer for at least 80 hours in a given year is eligible, though independent contractors are excluded. State labor leaders estimate that 930,000 workers who currently don’t receive paid sick time or who accrue less than 48 hours a year will gain coverage under the law.

The law also exempts some air carrier employees, building and construction workers represented by labor unions and federal employees. 

Who is considered family under the law?

The law is broad in terms of family members that a worker can take time off to care for.

It includes: children, domestic partners or spouses, parents, grandchildren, grandparents, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, children and siblings-in-law, family of a spouse or partner, blood relatives or people with whom a worker has a family relationship and another person determined each year by the employee.

Is this the same as paid family and medical leave?

No. The two programs are different, but backers said they are meant to be complementary. The earned sick and safe time program is intended to ensure workers have time off available for short-term illnesses, medical appointments or other needs. 

The paid family and medical leave program, which is set to roll out in 2026, will provide at least partial pay when someone needs more time — weeks or months — to welcome a new baby, recover from severe illness or spend time with an ailing loved one.

Unlike the paid family and medical leave program, the earned sick and safe time benefits will not be drawn down from a state fund. Employers will be expected to cover the paid time off for their employees.

What if I already get PTO or paid sick time?

If your employer already offers 48 hours or more of sick time or pooled paid time off and sick time, it will be up to them whether to offer the additional earned sick and safe time.

They will be required under the law to let employees use that time for designated purposes and donate it to another employee if they want to.

How can I keep track of my hours?

Employers will be required by the law to track earned hours accrued and spent each pay period as part of a worker’s earning statement. 

Why did they change this?

DFL leaders along with labor unions and some small businesses said the change was needed to level the playing field for Minnesota workers. 

While most employees currently get this level of earned sick and safe time or more from their employer, supporters said all workers should be able to take time they’ve earned and not have to worry about losing their job over it.

“I can't wait for workers across the state to be able to enjoy this basic benefit, a fundamental piece of economic security, the ability to stay home when sick, or to go to the doctor without forgoing a paycheck,” said state Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, who has carried the legislation several years in a row.

“Now this is available to everyone across to all employees across the state, because they need to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones,” Olson continued.

What are business owners saying?

Business organizations have raised concerns about the law and the challenges they’re facing in implementing it.

National Federation of Independent Businesses Minnesota State Director John Reynolds said small business owners are bracing for extra costs and procedural hurdles of complying with the law.

“I think that very few employers are aware of the particulars and sort of how complicated this actually is to implement at your average small business,” Reynolds said. “Updating the pay statements, updating the handbook and updating your policies or building out a policy for the first time is just complicated and frustrating.”

Other small business owners that have already made the change said they recommend the program. Butter Bakery Cafe owner Dan Swenson-Klatt piloted an earned sick and safe time several years ago, before Minneapolis adopted a local ordinance.

Swenson-Klatt, a member of the Main Street Alliance that has advocated for similar worker-protection laws, said there was about a two percent cost increase to get it started. But he said it paid off overall.

“One or two percent of payroll is something you can actually work into the system,” Swenson-Klatt said. “(Workers) don’t come to work sick anymore. That’s one that a restaurant owner is always a little worried about. And sending people home when they come in sick always felt like the wrong thing to do. Now they choose.”