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Minneapolis Earned Sick and Safe Time Ordinance Upheld by Minnesota Supreme Court

On June 10, 2020, in Minnesota Chamber of Commerce v. City of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the City of Minneapolis' Earned Sick and Safe Time (ESST) Ordinance. The ordinance requires employers to provide sick and safe time to employees who work within the city, and applies to all employees who work in Minneapolis, regardless of whether or not the employer is based in Minneapolis. Employers operating in Minneapolis—or other Minnesota cities with similar ordinances such as Duluth and St. Paul—should review their local ordinances, along with state and federal laws, to ensure compliance.

Stethoscope on calendarAdopted in 2016, the Minneapolis ESST ordinance provides that employees who work in Minneapolis for at least 80 hours a year shall accrue at least one hour of ESST for every 30 hours worked in a calendar year, up to a maximum of 48 hours. Further, it requires that employers allow employees to carry over unused ESST into the next year, so long as the total amount of accrued ESST does not exceed 80 hours. Accrual of ESST is based on the time an employee spent working in the city's limits; employers are only required to allow employees to use this leave when the employee is scheduled to work within the limits of Minneapolis.

A lawsuit was initially brought by the Chamber of Commerce against the City of Minneapolis, seeking a declaratory judgment that the ESST ordinance was invalid and enjoining its enforcement. After the ordinance was found valid in the district and appellate courts, the Chamber appealed the matter to the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that the ordinance (1) was preempted by state law and (2) that the ordinance improperly regulates employers outside the city. The Court rejected both arguments. On conflict preemption, it found that there was no irreconcilable conflict between the ESST ordinance and Minnesota state law concerning employee leave. According to the Court, the ordinance—which has stricter requirements for employers than those under state law—only furthers the underlying state law policy on leave and does not create an irreconcilable conflict.

Next, the Court analyzed whether the ordinance was preempted by state law occupying the field of employer-provided sick and safe time. The Court found that Minnesota's state statute on employer-provided sick and safe time did not contain any language indicating a legislative intent to create a uniform or comprehensive statutory scheme on employer-provided sick and safe time practices. Additionally, there were no administrative rulings supporting an intent for the state to occupy the field or clear legislative intent that employer-provided sick and safe time was solely a state concern. The Court also found that the ordinance would not have an adverse effect on the general population of Minnesota. As such, it held the ESST ordinance was not subject to field preemption.

The Court also rejected the argument that the ordinance impermissibly extended jurisdiction to employers whose principal place of business was outside of Minneapolis. Noting the limits on accrual and use of sick and safe time to work within the city, the Court held that the primary effect of the ESST Ordinance was to regulate activity within the geographic limit of the City of Minneapolis.

As this case demonstrates, local ordinances may provide additional or supplementary rights to employees and obligations for employers that are not provided under state or federal law. Employers operating in Minneapolis, or other cities in Minnesota, should review their local ordinances—as well as state and federal laws—to ensure compliance with all applicable rules and regulations concerning their employees.

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