The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

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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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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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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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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The tension between an employee’s right to religious accommodation and an employer’s need to get work done is at the heart of a case being heard in Hennepin County. A Seventh-day Adventist was fired after refusing to work between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday, the Adventists’ Sabbath.

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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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It’s up to employers to determine which job functions are essential and which are not. When a disabled employee challenges an employer’s list of essential functions, courts generally won’t second-guess the employer if the list of functions passes muster against a few simple guidelines. When deciding whether job functions are essential, courts consider these factors:

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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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Until recently, people employed in small businesses owned by their close relatives weren’t eligible for unemployment compensation. However, in late 2008, the Legislature changed the law to allow benefits if the relative had worked for the business for at least 16 quarters and earned more than $7,500 per quarter.

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