Employment Law FAQ's

When can an employer discipline an employee?

If the employment is "at will" employment, the employer can discipline or discharge an employee for poor work performance or for any other reason provided the employer's action is not discriminatory or based on illegal grounds. Employment manuals often provide procedures for imposing discipline or discharge, and the employer is generally obligated to follow the procedures set forth in the manual. An employee under contract cannot be disciplined or terminated except in accordance with the provisions of the contract. Employees who are members of labor unions or work for the government may not be disciplined or terminated without compliance with the applicable terms of the collective bargaining agreement, or applicable civil service policy and rules.

Can an employer restrict an employee from competing after termination of employment?

An employee may be prevented from engaging in competitive activity, or taking confidential information (trade secrets) if the employee has signed a written contract containing a noncompete or nondisclosure clause. A noncompete clause or nondisclosure clause must generally be limited in time, duration, and scope and supported by independent consideration, and must be reasonable in order to be enforceable. Courts are reluctant to enforce noncompete provisions on employees unless they are narrowly defined.

What is a "constructive discharge"?

If an employee resigns because an employer has created intolerable working conditions and refused to address the issues, the employee may be able to sue for constructive discharge and apply for unemployment benefits.

What is the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act provides protection and unpaid leave for family and medical purposes to eligible employees. Under the FMLA, a protected employee can take a leave of absence to care for his or her own serious medical condition or to care for an immediate family member with a serious medical condition. Not all employers are covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Whether or not your employer is covered depends on the size of the employer in addition to other criteria. Even when an employer is covered under the Act, not all employees will be provided protection. Whether or not an employee is covered depends on how long the employee has worked for the employer as well as the number of hours the employee has worked during the applicable period of time.

What is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the federal law providing protection against discrimination to certain classes of people.

Is there any law that protects against sexual harassment?

Yes, there are both state and federal laws that protect against sexual harassment. Both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and federal Title VII prohibit sexual harassment, which is a form of sexual discrimination.

What type of behavior can be considered to be sexual harassment at the workplace?

Behavior at the workplace that may be found to be sexual harassment includes physical and/or verbal communication of a sexual nature where the recipient is required to submit to it or submission is a factor in decisions affecting the employment of the victim or the behavior has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with the recipient's employment.

What is a hostile work environment?

A determination of whether there is a hostile work environment is based on a review of the workplace and its impact on an employee. These are case specific questions an attorney can only answer after receiving detailed information from the employee.

What is "age discrimination"?

If you are 40 years of age or older, and you have been harmed by a decision affecting your employment, you may have suffered unlawful age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that protects individuals 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) amended the ADEA to specifically prohibit employers from denying benefits to older employees. While an older worker is also covered by several other workplace laws, these are the main federal laws, which specifically protect older workers against discrimination based on age.

What is "wrongful termination"?

A right of an employee to sue his/her employer for damages (loss of wage and "fringe" benefits, and, if against "public policy," for punitive damages). To bring such a suit the discharge of the employee must have been without "cause," and the employee: a) had an express contract of continued employment or there was an "implied" contract based on the circumstances of his/her hiring or legitimate reasons to believe the employment would be permanent, b) there is a violation of statutory prohibitions against discrimination due to race, gender, sexual preference or age, or c) the discharge was contrary to "public policy" such as in retribution for exposing dishonest acts of the employer. An employee who believes he/she has been wrongfully terminated may bring an action (file a suit) for damages for discharge, as well as for breach of contract, but the court decisions have become increasingly strict in limiting an employee's grounds for suit.

What Minnesota Statute applies to workplace discrimination?

Unfair discriminatory practices in employment are prohibited by Minn. Stat. § 363A.08.

What is the ADEA?

The ADEA is the Age Discrimination Employment Act. This is federal law that provides protection for age-related employment discrimination.

What is the Minnesota Human Rights Act?

The Minnesota Human Rights Act provides protection against discrimination in employment. It is a violation of Minnesota's Human Rights Act to discriminate against an employee based on race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Is an employer legally liable for harassment by one of its supervisors?

Yes, an employer may be found liable for sexual harassment of an employee by one of its supervisors.

What are some examples of the type of actual behavior that might be considered to be sexual harassment of an employee?

An employee who, at the workplace, experiences undesired sexually directed advances, propositions for sexual favors, physical touching that is sexually motivated or verbal communications of a sexual nature that the recipient either must endure as part of keeping the job or otherwise may create a hostile working environment.