John A. Klassen, PA Minnesota Employment Law Attorney
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Minneapolis Wrongful Termination Law Blog

Bill on cities' labor mandates passes Minnesota House committee

While the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are set to have new paid sick leave mandates in 2017, there are those in opposition to the mandates. A House bill that would keep cities from being able to institute city-wide benefit and wage mandates that are greater than those provided by state law was the subject of a hearing before the house job growth committee recently. The bill would block local governments from promulgating regulations with regards to minimum benefits, employee scheduling, mandatory paid leave and minimum wages. The bill passed the committee by a vote of 13 to 9. The vote was split along political party lines; the majority members of this particular committee are Republicans.

This recent hearing took four hours. According to reports, advocates of the bill stressed that there should be uniformity statewide with regards to wages and benefits. The committee chair stated that it is neither realistic nor productive for all 854 cities in the state to have their own specific labor standards. Essentially, they fear a "patchwork" of standards that could be difficult to follow.

Wrongfully terminated? An attorney can help you

You only had your job for three years and you were still a relatively new staff member in a small accounting firm compared to the rest of your colleagues that had been there for 10 years or more. Everything had been going well. You got on well with your co-workers and your boss, and you enjoyed your work. Things started to change six months ago when a new manager (a friend of the owner) was hired.

While the addition of the new manager began well, it was not long before the honeymoon was over. You and other staff members began to experience instances of verbal abuse from the new manager. She began to make outrageous demands of you while you were in the office, forced you to work late and constantly complained about having to pay you for your extra hours.

Whistleblowers should not be afraid to report employer misconduct

People in Minnesota like to think their employers are ethical, but this is not always the case. Sometimes some employers in Minnesota commit acts of fraud against the government. Should an employee find this out, they may feel ethically bound to report the acts to the proper authorities. To do so, they can file a suit called a "qui tam action." Under this kind of lawsuit, the government can be compensated for the funds it lost because of an employer's fraudulent acts. The employee who brought the lawsuit is then awarded a certain percentage of the funds recovered.

In a qui tam lawsuit, a person alleges that their employer submitted a false claim to the government. For example, the employer could overcharge the government, fail to properly test the goods it manufactures or in any other way try to cheat or steal from the U.S. government. To prevail in a qui tam action, it does not need to be proven that the employer intentionally committed an act of fraud against the government nor does the government actually have to suffer a financial loss. It only needs to be shown that the employer either knew the claim was false, deliberately remained ignorant regarding the veracity of the claim or recklessly disregarded the veracity of the claim.

What is Minnesota's 'Equal Pay for Equal Work Law'?

In this day and age, it may seem like to days of discrimination in the workplace based on sex are behind us. After all, many women are able to rise through the ranks in their chosen fields to positions of leadership, and conversely, men have been able to pursue work in occupations such as teaching and nursing that have traditionally been held by women. However, wage discrimination based on sex still unfortunately occurs, and it is illegal.

Under Minnesota Statutes section 181.67, known as the "Equal Pay For Equal Work Law" an employer cannot pay workers of one sex less than employees of another sex when the employees are performing work that requires equal amounts of skill, effort and equal responsibilities and that is done under similar working conditions.

Is unemployment compensation available to workers who quit?

Some Minnesota workers, for one reason or another, are compelled to quit their jobs. In general, workers who quit their job are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

First, if a worker quit due to their employer's actions and an average reasonable worker would do the same, or if a worker quit in order to accept a better job, then they may apply for unemployment compensation. Also, if a worker had to quit their job due to a serious injury or illness, or if they had to quit in order to take care of an immediate family member who suffered from a disability or an illness, then that worker may apply for unemployment compensation.

Advocating for victims of age discrimination in the workplace

Older workers in Minnesota and across the nation have a lot to offer their employers. Their years of experience often makes them strong employees in their chosen fields. Moreover, they can serve as mentors to younger workers, passing on their knowledge and through that making the entire workplace stronger.

However, not every employer appreciates what older workers have to offer. They may think that older workers, who may earn more than younger workers, are more expensive to keep around. Moreover, some employers see older workers as out-of-date when compared to workers fresh out of school. This may lead employers to discriminate against older workers.

Can there be age discrimination against subgroups of workers?

As Minnesota residents may know, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits those age 40 and older from being discriminated against in the workplace. However, the question of how this type of discrimination applies to those above age 50 in comparison for those between ages 40 and 50 has come up in a number of cases, one of which might end up going before the United States Supreme Court. The Act doesn't prohibit all discrimination based on age, just that affecting those over age 40. Therefore, if an employer gives preference to someone who is age 20 over someone age 30, this isn't covered by the Act.

In one case, an employer, Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC, allegedly discriminated against workers age 50 and above when laying off workers back in 2009. According to the plaintiffs, the discrimination in this case was due to disparate impact meaning that even though the layoffs didn't out right target workers over age 50, the layoffs still had the effect of age discrimination. However, the defendants argue that, since those between ages 40 and 50 were not allegedly discriminated against, there cannot be a disparate impact. They argue that for the Act to apply, all workers age 40 and above need to be affected, not just a subgroup of people those ages.

Gretchen Carlson to testify before Congress on sexual harassment

Minnesota native and ex-Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit six months ago, alleging that she was sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, who was network chief at the time. Alies was subsequently let go from his job, but not before trying to force the case into arbitration, which would have kept witnesses, including other women reportedly harassed by Alies, from testifying. The case was ultimately resolved in September, to the tune of a $20 million settlement.

Now Carlson plans this spring to testify before Congress, with regard to how forced employment arbitration can keep victims of sexual harassment in the workplace from speaking out. Arbitration clauses were first made popular as a means of relieving overburdened courts.

Being A Whistleblower: Is It Worth The Risk?

When someone provides you with the money you need to pay for food, shelter and your bills, you may feel some sense of loyalty or dependence. That's how you may feel about your employer - necessary to your livelihood.

Whether you like your job or not, you need it. And if you really do like your job, that might make the situation even more complicated. If you suspect that your employer is doing something illegal, it can sometimes seem easier to simply ignore it or at convince yourself it's not really happening. 

How can victims of workplace sexual harassment address the issue?

Being sexually harassed at work can make a person feel scared, angry, humiliated and ashamed. Minnesota workers in such a situation may want to address the issue, but may not know where to start. They may even be wrongfully told that they have no options with regard to ending the harassment. However, that is not true. The following are some steps that victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can take to address the issue and protect their rights.

First of all, workers should not be afraid to speak up. If a worker believes they were sexually harassed, they should let the instigator of the harassment know that their actions offended them. It is possible that the instigator of the harassment was not aware that they were being offensive, and once it is brought to their attention, they will stop. Even if the situation is not resolved by speaking up, at least the instigator is now aware that they did something offensive.

Defending the Civil Rights of Vulnerable People

When employers discriminate or allow harassment and retaliation to take place or continue, we are dedicated to holding them accountable for their unlawful actions.

John A. Klassen, PA
Attorneys at Law
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Minneapolis, MN 55415     
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