The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

It’s natural for supervisors and managers to become upset when employees accuse them of some form of discrimination. Tell them they must resist the impulse to strike back. It inevitably makes the situation worse. Many forms of managerial punishment may end up being construed as retaliation—which can be far easier to prove than the alleged discrimination that started all the trouble.

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Rather than trying to wage a court fight over what increasingly looked like a losing battle, a local company has decided to settle with an employee who sued to enforce a noncompete agreement he had signed.

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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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Since employees get attorneys’ fees when a court determines employers violated their rights, it seems reasonable that employers should get attorneys’ fees when they have to waste time and money on frivolous litigation. It turns out some courts are beginning to entertain such requests.

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Conflicts over religious accommodation in the workplace have spilled over into the courtroom, as more and more employees try to force employers to bend work schedules to fit their religious practices. It’s no longer just a question of whether employees are entitled to a day off on the Sabbath. In an increasingly diverse workplace, Islamic practices are spurring more litigation.

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