Can an Employee be Punished or Fired for Refusing to Engage in Illegal Activity?

Employee being terminated

No, an employer may not fire or otherwise punish an employee for reporting or refusing to engage in illegal activity. According to Minnesota Statutes Section 181.932, “[a]n employer shall not discharge, discipline, threaten, otherwise discriminate against, or penalize an employee…because the employee…reports a violation or suspected violation of any federal or state law.” Additionally, an employer may not retaliate against an employee that refuses to perform an activity that the employee believes to violate federal or state law. (See footnote 1.) Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subdiv. 1.

An employee injured by a violation of section 181.932 may bring a civil action to recover any and all damages recoverable at law, together with costs and disbursements, including reasonable attorney’s fees, and may receive injunctive and other equitable relief. (See footnote 2.) If the court determines that a violation of section 181.932 occurred, the court may order any additional relief, including but not limited to reinstatement, back pay, restoration of lost service credit, if appropriate, compensatory damages, and the expungement of any adverse records of an employee who was the subject of the alleged acts of misconduct. (See footnote 3.)

If you are an employer and have questions regarding the possible consequences for discharging an employee, you should contact an employment attorney. By hiring an employment attorney to handle the discharge of a potentially problematic employee, you could save the company thousands of dollars in frivolous lawsuits.

[1] Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subdiv. 1 (requires that an employee have an objective basis in fact for belief that employer is violating or has violated federal or state law).

[2] Minn. Stat. § 181.935(a).

[3] Minn. Stat. § 181.935(c).

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