Saint Paul’s earned sick and safe time requirements are changing, with unanimous City Council approval on January 18. One key modification brings the city’s rules into compliance with a recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision.

The state’s highest court upheld Minneapolis’ earned sick and safe time ordinance in a June 2020 case involving the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The decision clarified that if a business has an office outside of the city but the employees work in the city, the employer needs to follow the earned sick and safe time regulations.

That is a clarification Saint Paul spelled out in its recently approved ordinance amendments. Some employers reportedly had moved their headquarters out of the city to try to skirt the regulation. Until the Minneapolis court case was settled, Saint Paul could only enforce its ordinance with businesses based in the city limits.

Changes were a long time coming

Beth Commers of Saint Paul’s Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity (HREEO) office said it took a while for the changes to be processed. HREEO in recent years has struggled with frequent turnover in leadership. That includes having six directors in the last five years.

A public hearing on the changes earlier in January drew just one supporter. Highland resident Rick Varco is the political director for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and its 50,000 union members. He said the changes follow the intent of the recommendations of the city task force on earned sick and safe time.

Varco and many other worker advocates are now trying to get statewide paid family and medical leave approved during the 2023 Minnesota legislative session. Local ordinances helped pave the way. “Our success with this is why we will get it (passed) at the state level,” he said.

Sick and safe time first approved in 2016

Earned sick and safe time initially won approval in Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 2016. Workers and organized labor said it was needed to give employees time to care for their health needs and the needs of their family members. Earned sick and safe time can also be used by workers who need time off due to domestic violence, harassment or stalking situations.

Many smaller employers questioned whether earned sick and safe time would add to their costs and complexity of keeping records. Business advocacy groups warned employers might opt to leave the city and not expand their workforces here.

Earned sick and safe time took effect in Saint Paul on January 1, 2018. All employees working in the city are eligible for the benefit, including part-time and temporary workers. Independent contractors are not included.

Employees are covered if they work at least 80 hours in the city in one year. The city has specific policies for how earned sick and safe time can be accrued or banked by an employee. It also has rules for  how an employer keeps records. The maximum number of hours that can be carried over year to year is 80.

Other amendments approved on January 18 will add definitions to the ordinance, clarify some sections, and reflect current practices. They will also bring consistency with how Saint Paul enforces both its earned sick and safe time and minimum wage

— Jane McClure


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