The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

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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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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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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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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Businesses that plan to lay off enough workers to trigger the federal WARN Act must give 60 days’ notice to employees and state officials. That’s supposed to allow state Rapid Response teams enough time to start helping find new jobs for soon-to-be displaced workers. But the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) says in many cases employer cooperation is grudging at best.

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In the past, employees who quit their jobs because they had to relocate when a spouse was transferred were not eligible for unemployment compensation. That changed when Minnesota amended its unemployment compensation law to get more federal stimulus money.

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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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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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A federal trial court has refused to open the litigation floodgates for former employees who go directly to federal court instead of following the proper procedures before suing. Employees who want to sue for employment discrimination under Title VII are supposed to file a complaint with the EEOC or a state discrimination agency first.

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