When someone is fired from a job, it is a normal reaction to think about whether or not he or she was terminated wrongfully. In Minnesota, there are laws in place that protect employees from being fired for unjust reasons.
“At Will” Employment
Minnesota is considered an “at will” state, which means that any employer may fire an employee for any reason, so long as that reason is not illegal. According to Minnesota law, an employer illegally fires an employee if he fires that employee because of his or her race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, membership or activity in a local commission, disability, sexual orientation, or age. Besides firing an employee, an employer cannot take other actions if they are based on such illegal reasons. For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire or unreasonably exclude a person who is seeking employment (i.e. a person of a specific race). The employer also cannot discriminate against a person regarding hiring, giving tenure, providing compensation, and the terms of employment. Discrimination can also include actions against a person relating to upgrading, conditions in the work place, facilities, or privileges of employment. Minn. Stat. § 363A.08.
Termination Due to Disabilities or Other Illegal Reason
Termination or improper treatment based on an employee’s disability is a more complex area of law, and is governed by both Minnesota human rights law, as well as federal law. Minnesota Statute § 363A.08 includes discrimination in the work place on account of an employee’s disability, and § 363A.03 defines what is considered a disability under the law. An individual is considered disabled if (1) he or she has a physical, sensory, or mental impairment which materially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. This definition under Minnesota law, does not quite fully clarify what is considered a disability. The federal Disability Act further clarifies this under 42 U.S.C. § 12102. An individual has an impairment that limits a major life activity if that impairment prevents him or her from doing one or more of the following: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. An individual who does not experience a limitation on such a major life activity may still be considered disabled under the law. A person “is regarded as having an impairment” when he or she has an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not it limits a major life activity. Such an impairment cannot be considered minor and cannot have an actual or expected duration of six months or less. If an employee believes that he or she was discriminated against in the workplace because of a known disability, it is important to contact an attorney to assess the employee’s legal rights and options. In some cases, an employee may have been fired for behavior that is linked to a health condition. In such a situation, it is important to contact an attorney to determine whether or not such a health condition is considered a disability, and to figure out the employees legal rights in the matter.
In addition to termination based on illegal reasons, an employee can seek legal remedy if an employer violates the Minnesota Whistleblower Statute. Minn. Stat. § 181.932. Essentially, an employer cannot fire, threaten, or otherwise discriminate or penalize an employee regarding compensation, terms, conditions, location, or privileges of employment if the employee were to do any of the following actions:
- report a violation of a federal or state law to an employer, governmental body, or law enforcement officer;
- if the employee was requested by a public body or office to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry;
- refuses to do something that he or she believes violates a federal or state law and tells the employer that the refusal to do the act is because of the violation;
- reports a situation in which the health care service provided by a health care facility violates a health care standard established by law and is potentially placing the public at a risk of harm; or
- if a public employee communicates the finding of a scientific or technical study that the employee believes to be truthful and accurate, including reports to a governmental body or law enforcement official.
In general, the Whistleblower Statute is meant to protect the employee from receiving ill treatment for coming forward with information against an employer or the company. The employer should not be able to fire or discriminate against an employee when the employee steps forward to do the right thing, only so that the employer can attempt to cover his or her own tracks.
Right to Know Reason for Termination
When an employee is fired, he or she has the right to know the truthful reason for the termination. If the employer does not provide an explanation at the time of termination, the employee has 15 working days to request an explanation from the employer. The employer then has 10 working days to respond to the employee. Minn. Stat. § 181.933. It is important after any termination to request such an explanation from an employer. If you have been terminated and believe that you were terminated wrongfully, contact an attorney promptly to discuss your legal rights and options. Dealing with a wrongful termination claim can be complicated, and an attorney may be best suited to determine whether or not, under a given set of circumstances, an employee was wrongfully terminated.