The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Some employees need FMLA leave to cope with work stress. But that doesn’t mean that employers can’t punish someone who makes threats.

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Fortunately for employers, courts measure a hostile work environment against the “reasonable employee” standard. If a reasonable employee would not find the conduct hostile, then it doesn’t matter how intensely a particular employee reacts to allegedly hostile acts. The idea behind the standard is to protect employers from exaggerated claims, especially when it is clear the employer took the allegations seriously and moved to prevent further problems.

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Watch out if a supervisor starts keeping extra-close tabs on an employee’s work in the wake of declining productivity or a poor review. You must make sure all employees in a similar situation get the same close attention.

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The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to expand the ways in which employees who are passed over for promotions can sue. It turned down a request to allow a lawsuit alleging that previously denied promotions could be considered as evidence of bias in later promotion denials.

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Employers that develop clear, fair and transparent hiring processes seldom have to worry about losing a failure-to-hire lawsuit. That’s true even if they end up using so-called subjective reasons for not hiring a candidate. Simply put, judges are impressed when it looks like a potential employer bends over backward to ensure it doesn’t discriminate.

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You may have noticed a slight chill in the air recently. For the second time this year, ICE has notified 1,000 employers that it plans to inspect their Form I-9 records. Whether your company has received a Notice of Intent to Audit or you have been lucky enough to avoid one until now, it is important to understand how a NOI may impact your organization.

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Now is the time to review your return-to-work policies and practices for employees on leave. They need to be integrated without regard to the reason that prompted leave. Treating workers differently depending on the reason for their absence opens the possibility of a disability discrimination claim.

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Few reasonable employees like working in an unpleasant environment where co-workers call each other names and generally treat each other with disrespect. They may, however, ignore such conduct to avoid rocking the boat. But supervisors who don’t put a stop to it risk a hostile environment lawsuit. That’s why you should consider adopting a civility policy that demands employees treat each other with respect and bans insults and other boorish behavior.

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Here’s something to remember when you’re worried about firing someone because you might get sued: Judges don’t want to run HR departments. As long as HR acts honestly and believes the employee should be fired because she broke a company rule, chances are a lawsuit won’t ­succeed.

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Employees who have been fired generally qualify for unemployment benefits unless they were terminated for misconduct. But “misconduct” is broadly defined. It can even include rude or snippy behavior that shows an employee doesn’t really care.

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