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The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

After being locked out since Oct. 21, 2012, musicians with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are prepared to complete a shortened season with a smaller contingent. A tentative agreement ending the lockout cuts the orchestra from 34 members to 28 and lowers the guaranteed minimum salary to $60,000—19% less than the previous contract that expired last September.

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A bill requiring hospitals and other health care facilities to meet target nurse-to-patient ratios has made it out of a Minnesota House of Repre­­sentatives committee. The Standards of Care Act requires hospitals to meet staffing levels recommended by professional nursing specialty organizations.

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Under the ADA and the MHRA, disabled workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations. Deciding what’s reasonable requires an interactive process in which both employer and employee discuss options that allow the employee to perform essen­­tial job functions. The employer then can choose which accommodation it prefers.

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By now, you are probably familiar with the idea your FMLA obligations are triggered when employees provide enough information for you to reasonably understand that they might need FMLA leave. They don’t need to say any “magic words.” It’s the same with requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

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Sometimes, employees quit in a huff over a pay dispute and then try to collect unemployment compensation benefits. They may argue that a pay cut justified their resignation. But unless the reduction is substantial—usually greater than 20% of previous pay—the resignation wouldn’t be justified.

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Before you settle an FLSA claim for what you might consider “peanuts,” remember that any settlement will probably include court-authorized legal fees that you will have to pay to the employee’s lawyers. That’s because any success in collecting unpaid overtime or minimum wages also means the employee who wins that money is entitled to have his legal fees paid.

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A supervisor’s foul temper can alienate employees—and wind up costing an employer big bucks.

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The EEOC sometimes tries to test out new retaliation theories to trip up employers. Its most recent attempt didn’t work.

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Courts hearing unemployment comp cases have recently been friendly to former employees seeking new jobs. However, now that the job market is recovering, some of that sympathy is evaporating. More and more, those seeking unemployment benefits are out of luck if they can’t show they are actively looking for work.

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A bill before the Minnesota House of Representatives would severely curb employers’ ability to force employees to sign noncompete agreements. The legislation, patterned after laws on the books in California and Mon­­tana, would ban a contract that prohibits a party from exercising a lawful, profession, trade, or business except under certain circumstances.

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Employers have no obligation to try to anticipate if a disabled employee needs reasonable accommodations. It’s up to employees to ask for accommodations help.

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Publicly calling an innocent person a criminal can lead to a defamation lawsuit. But what if, during court proceedings, you call a lawsuit a form of blackmail? Is that defamation?

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Do you automatically terminate employees who aren’t ready to return to work after using up all available FMLA and short-term disability leave? If so, you may be asking for an ADA refusal-to-accommodate lawsuit. The better approach: Determine if reasonable accommodations might help the employee return to work despite lingering problems.

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If your business delivers food and adds a small delivery charge, make extra sure customers understand the fee is not a gratuity.

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The Minnesota Senate has approved a measure that would prohibit most private employers from asking job applicants about past criminal convictions until they have been interviewed or made a conditional job offer.

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Many of the police officers, firefighters and paramedics in Minne­­sota municipalities are members of the military reserves and National Guard. When those workers are de­­ployed for military service, towns and cities often have to pay overtime to remaining first responders. A bill before the state Legislature would provide state funds to municipalities to cover those additional costs.

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Here’s an important reminder when management gets nervous about terminating a so-called whistle-blower. Solid, legitimate reasons for discipline take precedence over protections to which whistle-blowers are entitled.

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Under the FMLA regulations, if an employee is incapacitated, someone else can notify the employer, whose FMLA obligations are then triggered. But that doesn’t mean that a co-worker merely telling a supervisor that the employee is “sick” works as notification. Employers are entitled to better notice than that.

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If you place an older worker who has complained about age discrimination on a performance improvement plan  that is essentially impossible to complete, watch out! You’re setting yourself up to pay out huge punitive damages—even if the employee winds up winning just a modest retaliation verdict.

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Unions represent an ever-shrinking slice of U.S. employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 11.3% of workers were unionized in 2012, down from 11.8% in 2011. In 1981, 20.1% of American workers belonged to a union. Several factors have contributed to the decline.

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