The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) makes it an unfair employment practice to terminate an employee based on marital status. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota has now clarified that the law covers more than the state of being married; it also bans discrimination based on who one’s spouse is.

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Don’t expect to get a case tossed out just because the complaint is vague. The fact is, courts are willing to let an employee continue a quest for a big jury award as long as the complaint puts the employer on notice about the essentials, if not the specifics, of the case.

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Here’s one thing you don’t have to worry about—the race of the manager terminating another employee. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected the idea that just because the decision-maker happens to be of a different race than the employee being disciplined, there may be racism involved.

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While Congress ponders the Employee Misclassification Prevention Act, several states are studying ways to target employers that misclassify their employees as independent contractors. Minnesota is part of a joint task force studying the misclassification problem.

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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is stepping up efforts to encourage and support certain types of wage-loss claims by low-income workers. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced in April that the department was rolling out its “We Can Help” campaign to address this issue. If you employ relatively low-wage workers, you need to be aware of this program.

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In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled that the lawsuit clock resets each time an employer uses apparently biased job-qualification tests to make hiring decisions. The court said the timing of Title VII lawsuits doesn’t depend on when the test was administered, but on when the employer uses the test results, even if that’s years later.

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Minnesota residents had one of the nation’s highest per capita state tax rates in 2009, according to the watchdog web site Taxadmin.org. Minnesota ranked 8th in state per capital taxes last year, the same ranking it held in 2008.

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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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