The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Employees terminated for refusing to abide by reasonable work rules aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation. But what constitutes a reasonable rule depends on the circumstances.

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The Farmington School Board is investigating one of its own. The board recently voted to investigate member Tim Burke to see if he poses a potential liability. Several board members have accused Burke of treating administrators disrespectfully, burdening them with unnecessary data requests and making unfounded accusations against them.

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Sometimes, courts are suspicious of an employer’s claim that it conducted a reduction in force if it can’t support the claim with facts and figures. Supply the data and make the court comfortable with your company’s decision.

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Here’s a tip if you are revising your employee handbook: When it comes to discipline, make sure you give yourself some flexibility to deal with unusual circumstances. For example, if you want to use progressive discipline, be sure to account for the rare situations that may warrant immediate suspension or discharge.

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Most employers are well aware that it is unlawful for them to discriminate on the basis of race, gender and other protected classes or characteristics. But what about when a customer demands service on a discriminatory basis? What if a client says she wants to be served only by someone of a certain race? A recent case shows how an employer can run afoul of the law in such a circumstance.

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Give some employees an inch and they’ll take a mile. They stubbornly insist on pushing the rules and argue that if the handbook doesn’t say something is prohibited, then it must be OK. Fortunately, courts don’t often agree.

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The federal labor law can be a trap for the unwary—even for nonunion employers. Even if your employees don’t belong to a union, the National Labor Relations Act applies to you. For example, the National Labor Relations Board recently announced that a nonunionized employer will pay $900,000 to two fired employees to settle charges that it violated the NLRA.

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An IT manager at the Woodbury-based Postal Credit Union has pleaded guilty to scamming computer giant Cisco Systems out of $388,000 by swapping allegedly defective Cisco parts for good ones and then reselling the replacements on the open market.

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Some government employees mistakenly believe an employer can’t punish anything they say because the U.S. Constitution gives them the right to free speech. They’re forgetting that free speech has limits. For example, their speech is protected only if it touches on matters of public importance. And it is not protected if the speech occurs as part of their jobs.

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The EEOC has sued U.S. Steel—with Minnesota operations in Hibbing, Ishpeming, Keewatin and Mountain Iron—because the company’s policy of randomly testing probationary employees for alcohol allegedly violates the ADA.

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