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The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Employers can’t fire employees in retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on illegal activities. But Minnesota’s Whistleblower Statute doesn’t apply to workers who complain about practices they simply think are unethical.

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Ellen Bahr was a supervisor for Capella University and regularly had to evaluate workers in her department. One black woman was performing far worse than the rest of the workers, so Bahr placed her on an improvement plan. Even then, the employee’s work remained below standard …

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Exotic dancers at suburban Minneapolis’ King of Diamonds club pay the club a fee of $20 to $100 every night they work. King of Diamonds maintains the dancers are independent contractors and “pay for the pole” in order to earn tips. The club does not pay them an hourly wage. Attorney E. Michelle Drake sees things differently.

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The Minnesota Legislature recently enacted a law designed to protect employers from some of the legal risks that may accompany hiring people with criminal backgrounds. The law is designed to help those who have served their sentences re-enter society as productive citizens.

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A legal theory often referred to as the “cat’s paw” holds that an employer can be liable for hidden bias if it merely rubber stamps a subordinate’s discriminatory decision. By conducting an independent evaluation of the situation, you can cut off that liability.

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When talking to a former employee’s prospective new employer, are you afraid to provide truthful information or state an opinion? Doing so probably won’t earn you a defamation lawsuit in Minnesota.

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Are you a union employer with a collective-bargaining agreement that touches on labor issues also covered by the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (MFLSA)? Then employees can’t go directly to court without first pursuing a union grievance.

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Employers have an obligation to engage with disabled employees in an interactive accommodations process. But exactly how do you go about proving you complied when the employee says you didn’t try to help? Your best approach is to track all your efforts to accommodate, including every contact with the employee, whether by phone, e-mail, memo or snail mail.

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Here’s added incentive to handle terminations and other employment actions at the local level. When employees sue, their attorneys often look to expand the lawsuit beyond one person. They’re trying to find larger patterns of discrimination. This strategy can sometimes succeed if higher-ups in the company made the decision and based it on a common policy or framework.

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Employees who want to file a discrimination complaint have to meet tight deadlines. They have just 90 days after receiving an EEOC “right-to-sue” letter to start their lawsuits. A perceived threat from an employer —such as a statement that it will “dig up” everything it can about the employee—doesn’t excuse missing the deadline.

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