The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

When Elizabeth Johnson complained about unsafe working conditions at the Northland Learning Center, a cooperative of alternative schools for children with disabilities in Minnesota’s Iron Range, her boss took no action. Frustrated, Johnson wrote an anonymous letter to the local newspaper outlining the problems. That got the school’s attention …

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Disabled employees and their employers often disagree about how to accommodate a disability. Employees sometimes mistakenly believe that they’re entitled to the exact accommodation they prefer. That’s just not true. The fact is, an employer has the right to pick the accommodation it prefers—as long as that accommodation is reasonable.

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One of the best ways to guarantee an employee will get her FMLA case in front of a jury is for her boss to mention her use of FMLA leave while discussing termination. The best idea: Have someone neutral from HR deliver the news that the employee is being let go.

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In recent years, employees have begun filing more and more “caregiver” or “family responsibility” discrimination lawsuits. No federal or Minnesota law specifically addresses discrimination against caregivers. However, treating employees with caregiving responsibilities differently than other employees may violate various employment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA, the FMLA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

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Alfonzo Harlin took a job with the New Hope Emergency Food Shelf Network in late 2008. He claimed his new employer told him his health insurance premiums would be about $285 per month. When he found out the premiums would actually be more than $700 per month, he quit. Then he filed for unemployment benefits.

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You naturally expect people to show up for work on time. But you could get into trouble if you don’t have a written policy saying so. Having written rules makes it more likely employees will understand your expectations.

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Regis Corp., a national hair salon chain based in the Twin Cities, operates numerous outlets under Regis Salons, Cost Cutters, Supercuts, MasterCuts and other brands. CEO Paul Finkelstein was so concerned about the effects of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, he decided to be proactive. But his actions may have violated the NLRA.

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Employers are often confused about how much absenteeism they must allow for employees who haven’t worked long enough to be covered by the FMLA, and who aren’t otherwise entitled to miss work as a reasonable accommodation for a disability. The bottom line is that if you treat everyone equally, you can set high attendance expectations—and fire those who don’t meet them.

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You naturally expect people to show up for work on time. But you could get into trouble if you don’t have a written policy saying so. Having written rules makes it more likely employees will understand your expectations.

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Here’s some good news if you use truly independent contractors to perform work. If you have done it right, you don’t have to worry about losing an age discrimination lawsuit. But there’s a caveat: You must make sure you can easily prove your contractor wasn’t really an employee.

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