The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

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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The highly publicized battle for the leadership of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis offers lessons for all employers with unionized workforces.

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Q. An employee who is off on an approved FMLA leave just submitted her resignation, providing two weeks’ notice. Our employee handbook asks employees to provide a two-week notice when possible. May we terminate the employee’s employment immediately rather than wait two weeks?

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In her second State of the City address, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called for more regular work schedules, more overtime pay and greater access to paid sick days.

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Q. An employee with epilepsy wants to bring a dog to work to assist her in the event of a seizure. Our business is not conducive to having animals at work. Must we permit her to bring her dog?

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Recent changes to the Minnesota Whistleblower Act and the way in which Minnesota courts interpret it should put employers on watch. Late last year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals extended the statute of limitations for MWA claims from two to six years. The ruling comes on the heels of 2013 amendments to the MWA, which, plaintiffs argue, expand the scope of the statute’s coverage.

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With technological advances, just about every job involves using computers or computerized machinery. That doesn’t mean an employee whose job it is to repair such equipment is an exempt computer professional. Fixing things like printers and copiers—even the most technologically advanced ones—is hourly work, making the employee eligible for overtime.

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