Cook County businesses plan accordingly as Minnesota moves toward paid sick leave mandate
Kalli Hawkins

Cook County businesses plan accordingly as Minnesota moves toward paid sick leave mandate

Nearly all Minnesota workers would be entitled to paid sick leave under a plan moving through the Legislature that’s aimed at the roughly one-third whose employers don’t already give them time off when they’re ill.

Employees would be guaranteed one hour of paid “earned sick and safe time” for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours per year. Unused time up to 80 hours could be carried over into the next year. The proposal sets a floor, and nothing would change for workers who already have better benefits.

Workers could use the paid time off for physical or mental illness, treatment or preventive care, caring for a family member and absences related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. They could also use it when there are closures for weather or public emergencies or to quarantine to avoid spreading communicable diseases.

“The reality of life is that everyone gets sick at one point or another,” the chief author, Democratic Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth, said last week before the bill cleared the House on a party-line vote. The Senate Finance Committee is set to take up the bill soon.

More than 900,000 Minnesota workers don’t currently get paid time off to care for themselves or loved ones, Olson said.

The Democratic-controlled House passed similar legislation in 2019, 2021 and 2022 but couldn’t get it past the formerly Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats now control both chambers and the bill has already cleared three Senate committees on the way to an eventual floor vote there.

“It shouldn’t be controversial to say, and to put into state law, that workers should be able to take paid time off if they or a family member get sick,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, told reporters.

Workers would qualify after they’ve worked for their employer for at least 80 hours. Sole proprietors would not be covered. Employers, who would have to absorb the costs, could require documentation to justify the use of three or more consecutive days off. The requirements would apply to all employers, and they could be fined up to $10,000 for violations.

Business groups oppose the legislation, calling it an unfunded mandate for employers at a time when they’re already stressed by workforce shortages, sales that in many cases have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, inflation, supply-chain challenges, and high tax and regulatory burdens.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says that more than 80% of its 6,300 member businesses already offer some form of paid leave. The Minnesota branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents more than 10,000 small businesses in the state, says a company with 10 employees at an average hourly wage of $20 could face up to $9,600 in higher costs in the first year.

The proposal is very different from a more expansive bill advancing through the Legislature that would require up to 24 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Sick and safe time is aimed at short-term relief, while paid family and medical leave is designed for longer-term concerns and would be funded through a payroll tax. Olson said both approaches are needed.

Four Minnesota cities — Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Bloomington — and 16 other states already have some kind of paid sick time requirements, Olson said.

“In a very wealthy state, in the wealthiest country in the world, we can afford to provide paid safe and sick time for employees, Hortman said.

During an event in Cook County near the shores of Devil Track Lake state Sen. Grant Hauschild shared an update with community members and local business owners on the proposed mandates regarding paid time off. Establishing a paid family and medical leave system is a popular priority for Democrats in the state Senate. The Associated Press reports it would help people across the state, particularly women of color who disproportionately lack access to jobs that currently provide the benefit, according to at least one newly elected member of the state Senate.

Not all Cook County business owners agree that adding a paid family and medical leave policy is the right direction for the state to go, at least not under the current language drafted in the proposed bill. Mindy Fredrickson is a co-owner of Gunflint Lodge in Cook County. She visited the Capitol in St. Paul last month to express some of her concerns over the proposal.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs contributed to this story. 

In related news, WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with District 3A Rep. Roger Skraba about this legislation and other news from the Capitol in St. Paul during a recent interview. Audio below.