The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Employers sometimes use independent contractors as a way to lower their benefits and other labor costs. But that kind of economizing can turn out to be quite expensive if a court decides that the independent contractor is really an employee. One of the deciding factors in such cases is how much independence a worker has to control his work. The greater the employer’s control, the greater the likelihood that the “independent contractor” is really an employee.

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While the federal Civil Rights Act contains no outright prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation, that doesn’t mean employers can get away with discriminating against employees who don’t fit society’s stereotypes about how men and women should look. Sex stereotyping may well be sex discrimination because it is based on notions of what is “feminine” and “masculine.”

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The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 was enacted in response to concerns that insurers and employers could use results of genetic testing to discriminate against applicants and employees. Covered employers should consider updating their employment policies and practices to comply with GINA’s many technical requirements.

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If employers tell their employees to show up a little early in order to start their computers and get themselves ready to work, that time should be compensated. That’s true even if the employer doesn’t absolutely demand early arrival, but internal systems make it tough for employees to begin their shifts if they don’t arrive early.

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Sometimes unions engage in “ambulatory picketing” and other practices aimed at publicly exposing allegedly bad employers. This can include following your company vehicles to work sites and picketing outside your business locations. The NLRA permits all these practices. However, union reps can’t trespass on your property.

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Employees returning from military service are entitled to come back to their old jobs, and they have other limited job protections, too. But those protections don’t mean employers can never discipline or demote employees who have been serving in the armed forces. Just make sure you’re doing so for legitimate business reasons, such as documented poor performance.

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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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Employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with their employer’s workplace beliefs may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. But they can’t collect benefits if their beliefs aren’t sincere—or if their employer offered reasonable accommodations and they didn’t take advantage of those offers.

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When employees quit, they often want to remain friends with their former colleagues and clients. Usually that’s fine, but sometimes it’s not in co-workers’ or clients’ best interests. That doesn’t mean, however, that the former employer can get a restraining order against the employee who quit.

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Minnesota employees who believe an employer has discriminated against them based on age or another protected classification can file complaints with both the federal EEOC and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Employees have 90 days to file a lawsuit after the EEOC dismisses their case, but just 45 days to do so after the MDHR does.

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