You Don't Have to Say "Parenting Leave" to Get Parenting Leave
The Minnesota Supreme Court recently held in Hansen v. Robert Half In’l, Inc., 813 N.W.2d 906 (Minn. 2012), that an employee is not required to expressly request leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act (“MPLA”), Minn. Stat. §§ 181.940 et seq., in order to invoke the Act’s protections. Rather, the employee is only required to state a reason for needing the leave that would qualify under the law, such as the birth or adoption of a child.
The MPLA requires most Minnesota employers to provide up to six weeks of unpaid leave of absence to eligible employees in conjunction with the birth or adoption of a child similar to the unpaid leave available under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). In a rather limited reading of the law, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that an employee was not protected under the MPLA, even though her reason for the leave of absence was covered, because she did not specifically refer to the MPLA when she requested her leave.
However, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently reversed this decision, ruling that an employee need only state a reason that puts the employer on notice that the leave qualifies for protection under the MPLA. In other words, the employee need only state something like “I need a leave of absence because I’m adopting a child.” The Court noted that the MPLA’s plain language, which is similar to that contained in the FMLA, “does not specify the terms by which such leave must be requested.” The Court went on to reason that the MPLA must be construed liberally, because “[a] narrow reading of the MPLA would deny an employee the protections of the statute based on the technicality of failing to expressly invoke the statute.”
An eligible employee will be entitled to leave under the MPLA even if he or she does not specifically mention the Act when requesting leave. Employers have an obligation to recognize when an employee’s stated reason for leave qualifies under the MPLA.
While the greatest impact of this decision will fall on smaller Minnesota employers who do not meet the 50-employee threshold for coverage under FMLA, all Minnesota employers are advised to take note of this decision. Even if you are covered by FMLA, your employee still has rights under MPLA that run concurrently with the longer 12-week leave under the federal law. In addition, an employee who has exhausted entitlement to FMLA because of leave taken for other reasons (e.g. a serious health condition) will still have the right to take leave under the MPLA if the reason for the absence qualifies.