The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Employees who lose their jobs often think the reason just has to be discrimination. Their first stop after receiving their pink slips: a lawyer’s office. If the resulting lawsuit is meritless, push hard for dismissal.

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Employees who lose their jobs often think the reason just has to be discrimination. Their first stop after receiving their pink slips: a lawyer’s office. If the resulting lawsuit is meritless, push hard for dismissal.

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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is stepping up efforts to encourage and support certain types of wage-loss claims by low-income workers. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced in April that the department was rolling out its “We Can Help” campaign to address this issue. If you employ relatively low-wage workers, you need to be aware of this program.

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In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled that the lawsuit clock resets each time an employer uses apparently biased job-qualification tests to make hiring decisions. The court said the timing of Title VII lawsuits doesn’t depend on when the test was administered, but on when the employer uses the test results, even if that’s years later.

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Every year, employers face yet another increase in their health insurance premiums. And if there are many older or sick employees, those costs will keep on rising. Even adding one sick child to the list can drive costs into the stratosphere. But before you even consider firing (or refusing to hire) someone because they might jack up insurance costs, count your dollars, not your pennies. You might be staring down a lawsuit that could dwarf whatever premium costs you hoped to avoid.

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As the name clearly implies, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) makes it illegal to discriminate against women who are pregnant. But it doesn’t mean pregnant employees are entitled to special privileges. In fact, the PDA merely makes clear that employers must treat pregnant employees the same way they treat every other employee.

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You know that you can’t retaliate against an employee who, in good faith, complains about alleged discrimination. That’s true even if it turns out that he was wrong and no discrimination actually occurred. The key there is “good faith.” It’s not retaliation to fire someone who is simply trying to extort a benefit by making a frivolous complaint.

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It’s one of the worst HR nightmares possible: One disgruntled employee claims she represents hundreds or thousands of employees who have allegedly suffered discrimination. What was a single case suddenly grows into a huge, companywide class-action lawsuit—with a price tag that has suddenly grown exponentially. Fortunately, federal courts handling Minnesota cases seem to be stepping back from the brink. They’re not approving as many class-action requests.

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Independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation, and their clients don’t have to pay into the unemployment compensation trust fund, as the following case shows.

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Tim Murnane left real estate development firm Opus Northwest in June 2009 after negotiating a $2 million severance package to be paid out over 10 years. Murnane took a new position with St. Louis-based Clayco Inc., another developer in the Twin Cities area. All was going well until March, when a scheduled $79,266 payment from Opus failed to arrive in Murnane’s mailbox …

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