The 2013 Minnesota legislature enacted laws that will create significant change in the workplace. The same-sex marriage act, passed May 14, 2013 will have broad impact on employer policies, many of which are yet to be determined. Applicants can no longer be asked about their criminal history during the application process. Some home-based child care providers and personal care attendants can join a union. Also, beginning October 1, 2013, Minnesotans may compare insurance policies online.
The same-sex marriage act takes effect August 1, 2013. Employers will have to sort out whether they may or may not provide individual retirement accounts, private pensions and health-care benefits to same-sex spouses say attorneys James B. Sherman, and Chad A. Staul. While federal law neither requires nor prohibits benefits to same-sex partners, the Minnesota law creates new requirements. Policies and programs created under old state law terminology may be confusing or inconsistent and must be revised say the attorneys.
The same-sex marriage act creates additional confusion in allowing leave to provide family or dependent care. Minnesota’s Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) would allow leave to same-sex couples. However, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) does not recognize same-sex marriages. Furthermore, the U.S. supreme court is currently considering whether DOMA affects federal benefits for same-sex spouses. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice says it will no longer defend excluding same-sex couples from FMLA coverage. The full impact of Minnesota law is yet to be determined in this confusing mix.
The same-sex marriage act may also create a legal liability for employers who base employment decisions because of an employee’s or applicant’s spouse or ex-spouse. Attorneys Sherman and Staul recommend that employers seek legal advice in reviewing how the same-sex marriage act affects their policies and practices.
Employers can be fined up to $500 after January 1, 2014 by simply asking criminal history on the application blank because it is prior to an interview or job offer. Employers with a statutory obligation to ask for criminal history are not affected by the law. The Society for Human Resources Management says Minnesota employers may need to review their employment policies and practices because of the law changes.
Some home-based child care providers and personal care attendants can vote to join a union. Childcare providers can vote to join AFSCME and Personal Care Aide can vote to join SEIU under an arrangement made between the state and the unions.
As many as one million Minnesotans may be enrolling in Minnesota’s new MNSure healthcare plans. This includes individuals, small groups and small employers. Several of the state of Minnesota’s large healthcare insurers are participating in the state plan. Enrollment begins Oct. 2013 and coverage begins Jan., 2013.
In addition to the many changes from the legislature, the Minnesota Supreme Court has a few more. They now allow some slack for employers providing reference checks. In an opinion delivered February, 2013, the court said employer statements cannot be held as defamatory for “minor inaccuracies of expression” and statements of opinion.