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Retail chain agrees to pay back-wages, damages and penalties after investigation finds company violated protections for nursing employees

A Department of Labor and Industry investigation found Menards deducted wages for time spent expressing milk and retaliated against a worker who filed a complaint; company agrees to statewide audit of stores

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) recently entered into a consent order with Menard, Inc. (Menards), requiring the retail chain to comply with Minnesota law that directs employers to provide lactating workers with reasonable paid break time to express milk. The agreement also requires Menards to pay back-wages and compensatory damages to an employee for deducting wages from her pay for taking breaks to express milk and retaliating against her for asserting her workplace rights.

“Workers should not have to choose between expressing milk for their child and getting paid or keeping their job,” said DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach. “DLI supports new parents who choose to return to the workforce and understands the importance and impact of enforcing the Minnesota law protecting workers’ rights to express milk at work without having their compensation reduced.”

A DLI investigation of Menards in Fridley, Minnesota, found the company violated state labor laws during DLI’s audit period of Dec. 1, 2022, through May 21, 2023.

On Dec. 5, 2023, Menards and DLI reached an agreement in which Menards agreed to comply with the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) at all its Minnesota facilities. The company must also pay $15,000 in administrative penalties, with $7,500 of the penalties stayed pending compliance with the agreement.

In addition to paying the penalties, Menards agreed to various specific conditions to ensure compliance with WESA, including:

• paying back-wages to compensate the worker for illegally deducting time from the worker’s pay on 103 separate occasions;

• paying damages to compensate the worker for three days of lost wages when she was suspended in retaliation for asserting her workplace rights;

• performing a statewide audit of all of its stores to confirm no other workers had their wages deducted for expressing milk and, if they did, compensating all workers whose wages were reduced;

• reporting the outcome of the audit to DLI;

• updating its policy handbook to reflect all current rights under WESA, including rights to express milk, pregnancy accommodations and parental leave; and

• posting a copy of DLI’s nursing employees’ poster at each store in Minnesota, as well as a copy of the consent order.

Annual WESA report released

DLI also found many other companies violated WESA, according to the state agency’s annual report.

WESA is a comprehensive worker protection law designed to protect and promote opportunities for women in the workplace. An annual report provides DLI investigative data and outcomes related to its enforcement of WESA for the most recent year and since the law’s adoption in spring 2014.

WESA violations detailed in the most recent report include:

• a child care center employer that didn’t allow a worker break times to express milk due to her child’s age;

• a nursing home employer that took a worker off a work schedule after the worker requested a pregnancy accommodation; and

• an insurance company employer that denied a worker pregnancy leave because she had only been employed there for seven months at the time she requested leave.

WESA inquiries to DLI have been increasing. The number of intakes DLI received related to parenting leave and nursing employees’ rights nearly doubled in the past year, increasing from 180 intakes to 327 intakes.

WESA was expanded this year to include additional workplace protections for new and expectant parents, including:

• requiring all nursing and lactating workers receive break times to express milk regardless of their child’s age without losing compensation;

• requiring workplace lactation spaces be clean, private and secure;

• ensuring all nursing and lactating workers have a right to break times to express milk regardless of whether providing the breaks unduly disrupts the operations of the employer;

• ensuring workers can choose when to express milk based on their needs, whether that means expressing milk during an existing paid break, during an existing unpaid break, such as a meal break, or during some other time; and

• requiring employers notify all workers of the rights of pregnant and lactating workers when hired, when a worker makes an inquiry about or requests parental leave, and in a worker handbook if one is provided.

DLI continues to educate employers and workers about their workplace responsibilities and rights under WESA. Find a complete list of recent changes to WESA and additional information at dli.mn.gov/newparents.

Contact the Labor Standards Division at dli.laborstandards@state.mn.us, 651-284-5075 or 800-342-5354.

 

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