The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

When nonunion Delta Airlines merged with unionized Northwest in 2010, it set the stage for unionization votes among all Delta workers. So far, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) is 0 for 3, having failed repeatedly to organize Delta baggage handlers, customer service representatives and stock clerks. The IAM appealed to the Na­tional Mediation Board, which has agreed to investigate the elections.

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In today’s tough economy, it’s sometimes necessary to terminate em­­ployees. That may be especially true when new technology makes it easier to perform some tasks, reducing the need for employees.

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Employees who quit after being told they may be terminated aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation. That’s especially true if quitting provides another benefit, such as the ability to use the employer as a reference.

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Employers get lots of leeway when it comes to terminating employees. For example, courts generally uphold firing someone for breaking a rule as long as the employer reasonably believed the employee broke the rule—even if it turns out he did not. But when it looks as if the employer tried to trick the employee into breaking a rule, judges won’t look the other way.

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Employees who take FMLA leave to deal with their own serious health condition are entitled to reinstatement to their jobs or substantially identical ones when they return. But what if the employee isn’t ready to come back after 12 weeks? In that case, employers don’t have to reinstate the employee—at least not under the FMLA.

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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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New regulations implementing the FLSA are now in effect, and they mark a significant change in federal wage-and-hour rules—and how the DOL enforces them. The new regulations were created to make FLSA regulations consistent with changes driven by other applicable federal laws. Be mindful of these new regulations and the additional burdens they impose.

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In late June, days before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a massive class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination at Walmart, home elec­tronics retailer Best Buy opted to settle a bias-based class-action suit of its own. Nine employees will split $200,000. Their lawyers will get $10 mil­lion.

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