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Minnesota High Court’s double-trouble decision

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Here’s some disturbing news, courtesy of the Minnesota Supreme Court: When a supervisor threatens an employee with punishment or discharge for filing a workers’ compensation claim, that threat alone is grounds for a lawsuit.

That’s true even if the threat isn’t carried out and if the employer has an internal mechanism for reporting such threats.

To make matters worse, the court also declared that workers’ compensation retaliation claims must be heard by a jury if the employee requests a jury trial.

Recent case: Darrel was a maintenance worker for U.S. Steel at its taconite operations in Keewatin. He claimed he injured his back at work, but that when he told his boss about the alleged injury, he was warned not to file a workers’ compensation claim because it might jeopardize his employment. Darrel returned to work a few days afterward.

A year later, he hurt his back again. This time, he filed a workers’ comp claim. Because the injury persisted, he lost his job.

That’s when he sued for retaliation, alleging that he had been threatened with discharge back when he first hurt his back. He asked for a jury trial.

The case wound its way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which concluded that Darrel should have a jury trial and that it didn’t matter that the supervisor who allegedly made the threat never carried it out. What would matter was whether the threat was made. A jury will answer that question. (Schmitz v. U.S. Steel, No. A12-709, Minnesota Supreme Court, 2014)

Final note: Make sure you warn all supervisors against making any sort of threats—direct or implied—when employees are injured and want to file workers’ compensation claims.

Don’t be surprised if more employees and their attorneys file retaliation lawsuits after this decision.

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