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Proposed FMLA expansion raises local concern

WORTHINGTON -- As Minnesota legislators discuss the possibility of expanding employee rights included under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), local business owners are nervous that, if passed, the new policy could put them out of business.

WORTHINGTON - As Minnesota legislators discuss the possibility of expanding employee rights included under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), local business owners are nervous that, if passed, the new policy could put them out of business.

Enacted on a federal level on Feb. 5, 1993, FMLA affects public agencies, public and private schools and companies with 50 or more employees. It states that employees are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth of a baby, an adoption or a foster care placement. In order to qualify, an employee must have been working for the company for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months.

Legislators in both the Minnesota Senate and the House have written bills to expand FMLA leave entitlement. SF1060 was introduced to the Senate on Feb. 11 and is slated for discussion by the Minnesota Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee. HF5 was introduced to the House on Jan. 10, approved by the House Labor Committee and passed to the Commerce Committee for further discussion. HF256 was introduced Jan. 22 and will be on the agenda in an upcoming Labor Committee meeting.

State lawmakers want to allow an additional 12 weeks of paid leave for bonding time with a new child, for a total of 24 weeks of leave - for each parent.

While this proposed policy may be a boon to new parents across the state, some employers are concerned they won’t be able to afford to pay an employee on leave and also pay someone to fill his or her place in the interim.

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“We (in Greater Minnesota) just don’t typically over-staff to accommodate that amount of leave,” said Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson.

Replacing the employee on leave can also be a struggle, Johnson added, because outside of the metro area, Minnesota doesn’t have many temp agencies. Without that resource, it can be difficult to fill a position for only a few months until the regular employee comes back from leave.

On top of that, Johnson pointed out that in some cases, both parents work for the same employer. If they were to take their 24 weeks of leave one at a time, that places a burden on the employer for nearly an entire year - and that’s assuming that no other employee at the company has a baby during that year.

Some clauses in the proposed legislation, however, may help alleviate employers’ financial concerns.

The bills clarify that parents who apply for pregnancy and/or bonding leave would be ineligible for additional sick leave or vacation time, so total leave could not exceed 24 weeks in a given 52-week period.

They also establish limitations on the wages an employee on maternity, paternity or bonding leave could receive. If the employee’s average weekly wage is less than 50 percent of the state average, the employee could receive 90 percent of his or her average weekly wage while on leave. If his or her weekly average wage is between 50 and 100 percent of the state average, he or she could receive 66 percent of it. If the employee’s weekly average wage exceeds 100 percent of the state average, he or she would be entitled to only 55 percent while on leave.

Although small Main Street businesses will not be affected by a change in FMLA policy, larger Worthington employers that have 50 or more employees, as well as county governments and local schools, could see an increase in labor costs if the bills are approved.

If this legislation passes, it will become effective on Jan. 1, 2021.

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