The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) makes it an unfair employment practice to terminate an employee based on marital status. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota has now clarified that the law covers more than the state of being married; it also bans discrimination based on who one’s spouse is.

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If you offer short-term disability (STD) benefits for employees who can’t work because of illness, you probably insist on medical documentation. If the employee doesn’t provide that information within the reasonable timeline your STD plan requires, you can count the absence against the employee and terminate her.

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Here’s one thing you don’t have to worry about—the race of the manager terminating another employee. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected the idea that just because the decision-maker happens to be of a different race than the employee being disciplined, there may be racism involved.

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Don’t expect to get a case tossed out just because the complaint is vague. The fact is, courts are willing to let an employee continue a quest for a big jury award as long as the complaint puts the employer on notice about the essentials, if not the specifics, of the case.

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Consider this scenario: An employee lodges a complaint that her sex or race kept her from being promoted. Shortly after, you offer her an opportunity for advancement. She then turns around and sues, alleging that the offer was a sham. Fortunately, courts are rejecting such arguments.

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While Congress ponders the Employee Misclassification Prevention Act, several states are studying ways to target employers that misclassify their employees as independent contractors. Minnesota is part of a joint task force studying the misclassification problem.

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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is stepping up efforts to encourage and support certain types of wage-loss claims by low-income workers. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced in April that the department was rolling out its “We Can Help” campaign to address this issue. If you employ relatively low-wage workers, you need to be aware of this program.

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In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled that the lawsuit clock resets each time an employer uses apparently biased job-qualification tests to make hiring decisions. The court said the timing of Title VII lawsuits doesn’t depend on when the test was administered, but on when the employer uses the test results, even if that’s years later.

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The Minnesota Senate will hold hearings on the Constitutional Amendment for Equality (CAFE), a state-level equivalent of the federal Equal Rights Amendment that failed to win ratification in the 1970s and ’80s. In a statement, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legislators said the amendment to the Minnesota constitution would protect women’s rights in ways statutes can’t.

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You know that you can’t retaliate against an employee who, in good faith, complains about alleged discrimination. That’s true even if it turns out that he was wrong and no discrimination actually occurred. The key there is “good faith.” It’s not retaliation to fire someone who is simply trying to extort a benefit by making a frivolous complaint.

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