The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Q. We have an employee who regularly comes into work a half-hour or more before her scheduled shift in order to get her work station ready and otherwise get herself set up for the day. This preparation time is important to the employee because she does not believe that she can meet the production requirements of her job without it. The employee has been told that she cannot start performing her actual job tasks until the start of her scheduled shift. Our new HR manager has advised that we must pay the employee for the time that she spends preparing for her shift, even though she had no approval to work during that time. Is that right?

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Q. We have operations in South Dakota, and one of our employees there has requested FMLA leave to care for his same-sex spouse for an FMLA-qualified reason. The couple was married in Minnesota, but South Dakota does not recognize same-sex marriage. Should we grant the FMLA leave request?

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Q. We have a server at one of our restaurants who has open sores on her face. She claims she can’t get a bandage to stick to her chin, leaving the sore uncovered. As a result, we have received a few customer complaints. May we remove the server from her shifts so that we do not lose business?

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Generally, employees taking an exam required for promotion should be tested under similar circumstances, take the same test and generally be treated the same. But sometimes, especially during a hands-on test, it becomes obvious early on that the employee does not have the skill to pass. If that’s the case, you can end the test early.

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As long as you act in good faith, most courts will uphold your honest HR decisions.

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A federal court has upheld an arbitration agreement negotiated between a union and an employer that compelled individual arbitration for FMLA claims.

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Employees have many avenues to sue their employers for alleged discrimination. Most are common and have clear-cut deadlines. Some are more exotic. Consider, for example, an employee’s right to sue over her employer’s alleged discrimination against her because of who she associates with. Here’s what happened when one worker waited more than four years to make a so-called Section 1981 civil rights claim.

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Employers that rely on absenteeism to fire such a worker may find themselves in court arguing over which absences and late arrivals should be included or excluded—and hope they got it right.

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What do you expect an employee to do at the end of approved FMLA leave? Clarify that it’s the employee’s responsibility to notify the employer and check his schedule when he receives medical clearance. Then, if the employee ignores your instructions and doesn’t show up, it’s willful misconduct—making him ineligible for unemployment benefits.

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The more general your discharge reasons, the easier it is for the former employee to argue that discrimination was in play. Conversely, specific discharge reasons make it much harder to argue discrimination because chances are the fired worker won’t find someone similarly situated (i.e., who broke exactly the same rule) for comparison. See how this played out in a recent case.

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