Minnesota House passes paid sick time for workers, fight over lessons learned from COVID

Democrats say the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted why workers need access to paid sick time in order to preserve their and their coworkers' health. Republicans say businesses are struggling enough amid the coronavirus recession, and a new state mandate could crush them.

Minnesota Capitol 1.jpg
The Minnesota Capitol building with statue of Sen. Knute Nelson.

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House has narrowly passed a bill requiring all employers to offer sick time to their employees, with Democrats and Republicans split on whether the coronavirus highlights the need to guarantee sick time, or if the proposed mandate could deal a lethal blow to struggling businesses.

House File 7 passed by a 69-63 vote on Thursday, March 25. Democratic proponents say the bill is timely, with employees needing the ability to take off if they or their loved one is sick during a yearlong airborne pandemic. Republican opponents refuted that employers are struggling enough amid the pandemic’s recession, and a new state mandate could bury them.

Rep. Liz Olson, D-Duluth, said the pandemic is “another stark reminder that when people get sick, they should be able to stay home not just for their own health, or that of a loved one, but for the health of all of us.”

Olson’s bill would require employers to provide at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to at least 48 hours per year. Currently, Minnesota employers can choose to provide paid time off, but are not required to.

“This bill would ensure that Minnesota is a state where regardless of the color of your skin, your income or where you work, you can afford to take the time to recover from an illness at home where you can limit its spread (...) and where those things don’t mean you need to worry about missing bills or losing your job,” Olson said. “Unfortunately for far too many, especially those we’ve called essential during this pandemic, this isn't the Minnesota they experience.”


While Democrats say during a pandemic is the most vital time to require sick time for workers, Republicans say the bill would kick business owners when they’re already down. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, likened the bill to the state government “putting (its) foot rhetorically on their throats” when they have been “begging you, pleading with you” for help to stay afloat.

“At the very same time when businesses are low on capital, short on cash and bleeding money, you want to impose another cost on them,” Garofalo said.

The bill ultimately passed by a 69-63 vote. It requires approval from the Republican-controlled Senate before it could head to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.

The House also on Thursday evening passed a bill barring employers from using prospective employees' salary histories in order to determine pay, as well as a bill establishing rehire protections for workers laid off during the pandemic.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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