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Minnesota Supreme Court: Employees do not need to refer to Minnesota Parental Leave Act when taking medical leave

Medical Leave and Maternity Leave

Hansen v. Robert Half Intnt’l (Minn. 2012):  The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled this week that employees taking medical leave from work do not need to mention the Minnesota Parental Leave Act (MPLA) in order to have their jobs protected by the law while on medical leave.

Kim Hansen started as a staffing manager at Robert Half Intnt’l in 2004 – her job was to place administrative professionals into temporary positions.  In 2008, Robert Half promoted Ms. Hansen to division director, where she was responsible for supervising other staffing managers.

Ms. Hansen gave birth to her second child on August 29, 2008 and took medical leave that day.  She checked “pregnancy-related disability” on the leave of absence form she turned into Robert Half.  She returned to work on December 1, 2008 after her approved 90 day medical leave.  Robert Half terminated her the very next day.

Ms. Hansen brought suit in Minnesota state district court and alleged that Robert Half:  1) violated the MPLA by failing to reinstate her to her position after her maternity leave; and 2) violated the MPLA by retaliating against her for taking maternity leave.

The state district court dismissed Ms. Hansen’s case on summary judgment and ruled that Ms. Hansen had no right to reinstatement because the MPLA requires employees to specifically mention the MPLA when taking medical leave and Ms. Hansen failed to do so.  Ms. Hansen appealed.

Under the MPLA, “[a]n employer must grant an unpaid leave of absence to an employee who is a natural . . . parent in conjunction with the birth . . . of a child.  The length of the leave shall be determined by the employee, but may not exceed six weeks, unless agreed to by the employer.”  Minn. Stat. § 181.941, subd. 1.  The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the plain language of the MPLA does not require an employee to specifically mention the MPLA when taking medical leave in order to enjoy the law’s protections:

“In construing the MPLA liberally, an employee should be entitled to the protections of the Act when she informs her employer of a qualifying reason for the needed leave and is otherwise eligible for such leave.  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.”

The Court looked to the protections offered by the federal equivalent law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The FMLA does not require employees to specifically mention it in order to be protected when taking medical leave.:

 “It is very easy for a plaintiff to give notice of her intent to take leave.  She is not required to understand when she may take FMLA leave, or to state explicitly that she intends to take FMLA leave, or indeed, even to know that the FMLA exists.  All she has to do is apprise her employer of the specifics of her health condition in a way that makes it reasonable plain that it is serious and tell her employer that this is why she will be absent.”

Rask v. Fresnius Med. Care N. Am., (8th Cir. 2007).

The Court’s ruling is good news for Minnesota employees, who as a result will be able to take medical and pregnancy related leave from work without putting their jobs in jeopardy over small technicalities.