The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Tim Murnane left real estate development firm Opus Northwest in June 2009 after negotiating a $2 million severance package to be paid out over 10 years. Murnane took a new position with St. Louis-based Clayco Inc., another developer in the Twin Cities area. All was going well until March, when a scheduled $79,266 payment from Opus failed to arrive in Murnane’s mailbox …

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Every year, employers face yet another increase in their health insurance premiums. And if there are many older or sick employees, those costs will keep on rising. Even adding one sick child to the list can drive costs into the stratosphere. But before you even consider firing (or refusing to hire) someone because they might jack up insurance costs, count your dollars, not your pennies. You might be staring down a lawsuit that could dwarf whatever premium costs you hoped to avoid.

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As the name clearly implies, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) makes it illegal to discriminate against women who are pregnant. But it doesn’t mean pregnant employees are entitled to special privileges. In fact, the PDA merely makes clear that employers must treat pregnant employees the same way they treat every other employee.

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You know that you can’t retaliate against an employee who, in good faith, complains about alleged discrimination. That’s true even if it turns out that he was wrong and no discrimination actually occurred. The key there is “good faith.” It’s not retaliation to fire someone who is simply trying to extort a benefit by making a frivolous complaint.

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It’s one of the worst HR nightmares possible: One disgruntled employee claims she represents hundreds or thousands of employees who have allegedly suffered discrimination. What was a single case suddenly grows into a huge, companywide class-action lawsuit—with a price tag that has suddenly grown exponentially. Fortunately, federal courts handling Minnesota cases seem to be stepping back from the brink. They’re not approving as many class-action requests.

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Independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation, and their clients don’t have to pay into the unemployment compensation trust fund, as the following case shows.

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The Minnesota Senate will hold hearings on the Constitutional Amendment for Equality (CAFE), a state-level equivalent of the federal Equal Rights Amendment that failed to win ratification in the 1970s and ’80s. In a statement, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legislators said the amendment to the Minnesota constitution would protect women’s rights in ways statutes can’t.

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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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When Congress raised the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots from 60 to 65, not all pilots were pleased. Pilots who had been forced to retire under the 60-years-of-age rule were not grandfathered into the new system. Now the pilots are seeking back pay and lost wages under state laws and the Federal Tort Claims Act.

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Once you’ve made the tough decision to terminate an employee, stick to it. If you let the employee talk you into reconsidering, you may end up with a lawsuit over whether a contract had been created.

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