The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Faced with falling revenue, the counties that fund the Great River Regional Library System last year implemented what they hoped would be cost-saving measures. The unwanted results: Two age-discrimination lawsuits, the unionization of library managers, higher unemployment comp costs and spiraling legal fees.

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If an employer loses a discrimination case, it typically has to pay the employee’s legal fees and associated costs (plus any damages due). But what if the case is championed by the EEOC and the agency loses? Surely it has the money to reimburse the employer it dragged into court. Fat chance you’ll recoup those costs, if this recent Minnesota case is any indication.

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Like other employers, your organization probably is trying to use employees as efficiently as possible. That may include eliminating some jobs and training employees to pick up additional tasks. You may want to consider creating a cross-training program before deciding which employees to terminate. Those who show a willingness to learn new skills and the ability to perform them well are probably the “keepers” on your staff. Just make sure you offer everyone the same opportunity to learn.

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Need a way to sell a possible lawsuit settlement to managers? Try explaining that even a small jury award can mean having to pay huge attorneys’ fees on the employee’s side, in addition to the company’s own legal costs.

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A supposedly confidential sexual harassment complaint has become an election issue in the Dodge County sheriff’s race. An employee in the sheriff’s office claims she was sexually harassed by current Sheriff Jim Trihey.

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The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected a retaliation lawsuit that alleged reverse discrimination at Capella University, the nationwide online institution of higher learning based in Minneapolis.

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A federal court has refused to expand the FMLA, rejecting an employee’s attempt to force automatic FMLA leave for a serious health condition allegedly caused by her employer.

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You no doubt know you should act fast to investigate when employees complain about discrimination. But that doesn’t mean you need to rush to complete your inquiry in just one day.

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Train supervisors and managers on situations that could trigger the FMLA leave determination process. The best approach is to suggest they notify HR if an employee calls in sick and implies anything more than “I’m sick today.” If the employee provides any detail that makes it seem likely he or a family member is suffering from a serious health condition, he should be referred to HR to determine if he’s eligible for FMLA leave.

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Here’s good news for employers that want to accommodate employees who say they’re disabled, even if it’s not clear they actually are. If you make the accommodations, the employee can’t sue you for regarding her as disabled if it turns out she isn’t really disabled. That means you can safely agree to an accommodation without fearing a lawsuit later.

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