The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Exotic dancers at suburban Minneapolis’ King of Diamonds club pay the club a fee of $20 to $100 every night they work. King of Diamonds maintains the dancers are independent contractors and “pay for the pole” in order to earn tips. The club does not pay them an hourly wage. Attorney E. Michelle Drake sees things differently.

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The Minnesota Legislature recently enacted a law designed to protect employers from some of the legal risks that may accompany hiring people with criminal backgrounds. The law is designed to help those who have served their sentences re-enter society as productive citizens.

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In one of its most anticipated employment law decisions in years, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that New Haven, Conn., discriminated against white firefighters when it refused to promote them after they passed a test that most black co-workers failed.

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Employers can’t fire employees in retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on illegal activities. But Minnesota’s Whistleblower Statute doesn’t apply to workers who complain about practices they simply think are unethical.

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals has decertified a class-action lawsuit brought by 4,900 current and former Minnesota employees of 3M. The suit alleged that company policies, seemingly neutral, actually had a disparate impact on older workers.

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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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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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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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