A new North Star on paid leave from the North Star State
Minnesota parents will be guaranteed paid time off to care for their newborns. Getty Images.
Minnesota’s Legislature is sending a landmark paid leave law to the desk of outspoken paid leave champion Gov. Tim Walz, making Minnesota the first state in the Midwest to guarantee paid leave.
The law will cover nearly all of the state’s 2.8 million employees, with benefits beginning in January 2026. For Minnesota, this win will be game changing for economic security, population health, and racial and gender equity — all while injecting millions in wage growth into the economy and saving lives. But far from being contained within the state, Minnesota’s win will resonate throughout the country.
Here are six reasons this win matters not only to Minnesota, but to the entire nation:
Minnesota pushes paid leave inland.
Of the eleven states that have already passed paid family and medical leave laws, all but one (Colorado) have been along the country’s coasts. Minnesota’s win brings paid leave into the Heartland, and policymakers across the country are taking note. Already, leaders in states like Michigan and Illinois are pushing their own paid family and medical leave bills, with others sure to follow.
Paid leave is for everyone.
Paid leave champions in Minnesota, including sponsors Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina, and Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, defeated efforts to narrow coverage and instead won a program that works for the whole state. The bill will cover nearly all Minnesota employees, regardless of employer size and across the private and public sector. It will provide leave not only to new parents, but also for family caregiving, responding to domestic violence, dealing with military deployment, and for workers’ own serious health needs — the reason most workers use paid leave. And despite efforts to limit coverage, it will cover care for all those that Minnesotans may need to provide care for, recognizing the many ways families are built.
Paid leave is a boon to small businesses.
Small business owners want to provide paid leave not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is essential to recruiting and retaining the workers who make their business thrive. While many larger businesses and corporations may be able to afford to pay similar benefits on their own, state paid leave laws help start-ups and smaller employers compete for talent. That’s why small business owners have been at the forefront of the fight in Minnesota. Paid leave laws are an investment in small business success. As St. Paul coffee shop owner Andrew Kopplin put it, paid leave “is a big win for small businesses because it is affordable, more accessible to all Minnesotans and helps level the playing field for small businesses.”
Job protection puts paid leave in reach for all workers.
Following the lessons learned in other states, Minnesota’s law will guarantee nearly all workers taking paid leave the right to get their jobs back following leave. While a federal law called the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees job-protected but unpaid leave to those who are covered, its narrow eligibility criteria leave out nearly half of all employees, disproportionately low-income workers. By providing its own much broader protections, Minnesota ensures that workers can actually use the benefits they have earned and paid for.
The bill gives Minnesota employers a leg up — and other states are at risk of being left behind.
With the passage of Minnesota’s law, more than one in three Americans will live in a state with a paid leave guarantee on the books. Employers in states that aren’t investing in paid leave are at a growing disadvantage in recruiting and retaining talent. Recent polling shows that 61% of those likely to relocate in the next two years said they’d be more likely to move to a state that guaranteed paid family and medical leave. Employers can no longer afford not to provide paid leave — and need their lawmakers to step up to empower them to do so.
Minnesota’s paid leave law means real benefits for real people.
Most importantly, there are over 2.8 million employees in Minnesota, the overwhelming majority of whom will be eligible for benefits thanks to thoughtful eligibility standards. For them and their families, this victory isn’t a symbol or a stepping stone: It means finally getting life changing — or life-saving — treatment or being there for a parent’s last breath or a baby’s first steps.
This victory is the culmination of a multi-year campaign by a broad-based coalition bringing together labor, faith leaders, women’s and children’s advocates, health providers and small businesses. The North Star State is the latest to guarantee paid leave — but it won’t be the last. Americans across the country are demanding the paid leave they need and are taking note of whether their elected officials, at the state and federal level, are delivering.
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Molly Weston Williamson