The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Are you planning a reduction in force due to the poor economy? If so, double-check who is going to lose their jobs, paying particular attention to whether the burden falls predominantly on workers over age 40. If that is the case, make absolutely certain you have legitimate business reasons to back up your decision to fire them.

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The tension between an employee’s right to religious accommodation and an employer’s need to get work done is at the heart of a case being heard in Hennepin County. A Seventh-day Adventist was fired after refusing to work between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday, the Adventists’ Sabbath.

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It’s up to employers to determine which job functions are essential and which are not. When a disabled employee challenges an employer’s list of essential functions, courts generally won’t second-guess the employer if the list of functions passes muster against a few simple guidelines. When deciding whether job functions are essential, courts consider these factors:

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Mesaba Airlines, which operates short-haul flights for Delta and Northwest Airlines, has reached an agreement with the EEOC on religious discrimination claims filed by several employees. The suit began when Mesaba fired customer service agent Linda Vellejos after she refused to work on the Jewish Sabbath.

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A nationwide hobby and gift store chain will pay $35,000 into a supplemental needs trust account for Julie Tufts, a former employee of the Hobby Lobby store in Rochester.

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Many medical conditions aren’t disabling, so they don’t qualify for protection under the ADA. That’s because they don’t actually impair a major life activity like walking, breathing, taking care of oneself or working. But sometimes employers mistakenly believe that a medical condition is disabling when it’s not. If they express those beliefs, they may make themselves vulnerable to a “regarded as disabled” lawsuit.

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If you pay commissions under a written compensation plan that covers commissions earned only while the employee works for your company, be careful how you handle terminations—and discussion concerning payment of further commissions. In some circumstances, you could inadvertently create additional liability for unpaid commissions …

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These are tough economic times and lots of employers find themselves having to make difficult financial decisions. When those decisions include shutting down a store or branch location, employees who lose their jobs may be eligible for unemployment. But when former employees collect unemployment, unemployment insurance costs go up for employers. One way to cut your potential unemployment comp liability is to offer the employees a transfer to another location.

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The best estimates are expected to show that Minnesota’s unemployment insurance fund spent about twice what it took in during 2009. With state unemployment running at about 7.6%, the state has paid out approximately $1.6 billion in benefits in 2009, but only taken in about $850 million.

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As the recession continues, many employers have had to turn to reductions in force as an unfortunate yet necessary cost-saving measure. Count on some of those former employees to sue. Employers considering implementing RIFs must understand the legal and practical issues that can trap the unwary. Taking these four steps can minimize the risks of lawsuits:

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