This week, the Minnesota Senate approved the final version of a bill that will give workers the right to paid family and medical leave in situations where they are unable to work due to severe health conditions or caregiving responsibilities. The bill is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Tim Walz.
Once it becomes law, it is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2026, when both workers and employers will start contributing to the underlying program, and eligible employees can begin taking leave and receiving benefits.
The law applies to almost all employees in Minnesota, regardless of employer size, encompassing full-time, part-time, private sector, and state and local government employees. Certain seasonal workers are the only exemption. Self-employed individuals will have the option to opt in for coverage.
Types of Leave
The new law provides for various forms of leave, including:
Medical: For workers' own severe health conditions, including pregnancy
Caregiving: To support workers caring for a loved one with a serious health condition
Parental: To grant workers the time to bond with a new child
Safety: For certain needs when workers or their loved ones experience sexual or domestic violence
Deployment-related: To cope with the impact of a loved one's military deployment
Eligibility for Benefits
Workers must have earned at least 5.3 percent of the state average annual wage over a designated 12-month period before the commencement of leave to be eligible. As of now, workers would need to have earned about $3,500 in the base period to qualify.
Income earned across all covered Minnesota employers in the base period contributes towards the total, meaning even those who have recently changed jobs or have multiple jobs could count income from all sources. This makes eligibility for monetary benefits transferable as employees change employers.
Duration of Leave
The legislation divides benefits into two categories: 1) medical leave, including for pregnancy or recovery from childbirth, and 2) all other types of leave, such as parental, safety, caregiving, and deployment-related leave. Workers can avail up to 12 weeks of leave in each category per benefit year, with a maximum of 20 weeks total in a benefit year if leave from both categories is needed.
The law is broad in its definition of family, recognizing a family member as a worker’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent, and many relationships by marriage. It also includes individuals with whom the worker shares a relationship that entails an expectation of care, acknowledging the caregiving needs that extend beyond legal or biological relationships.
Employees are entitled to job protection, provided they were employed at least 90 days before their leave. This protection ensures their right to return to their job or an equivalent position, irrespective of the employer's size or their weekly working hours. Health insurance through their employer will be maintained while on leave. The legislation explicitly prohibits employers from interfering with these rights or retaliating against employees exercising them.
The wage replacement rates are progressive. Lower-income workers will receive a higher percentage of their own income, with a sliding scale of lower percentages for higher-income workers, balancing affordability and need.
The program's initial funding will come from substantial appropriations from the state’s general fund. Once established, the program will be funded through payroll premiums, split evenly between employers and employees. When contributions start on January 1, 2026, the rate will be 0.7 percent. This implies that employees and employers will each pay 0.45 percent on income up to the maximum income subject to contributions for Social Security. Rates will be adjusted annually based on program usage. Employers with fewer than 30 employees will pay a reduced amount, which the fund will absorb; employees at small employers will pay the same amount as those at larger employers.
To access the benefits, employees will typically apply to the state, which will process their claim and pay benefits from the state insurance fund. Employers will not need to pay employees while they are on leave. However, employers can request special permission to provide benefits through a private plan. In such cases, workers would apply for and receive benefits from the private plan, such as a commercial insurance policy, rather than through the state. These private plans will be subject to strict rules and oversight.
Joshua Newville is a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator. Josh litigates and advises on such matters as wrongful termination, whistleblowers, discrimination, police misconduct, and more. He offers paid legal consultations and free online case reviews regarding employment law and civil rights.