The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Employees who lose their jobs often think the reason just has to be discrimination. Their first stop after receiving their pink slips: a lawyer’s office. If the resulting lawsuit is meritless, push hard for dismissal.

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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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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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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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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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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 EEOC has won the first round of a battle against early-retirement incentive plans that are based strictly on age. If you have such a plan, make sure you review its legal status with your attorney.

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