Essentials of Minnesota Employment Law

State and federal laws shield employees from illegal hiring practices from the time they apply for a job until termination. The following is a summary of the essentials of employment and labor laws unique to Minnesota.

Hiring Practices

Want ads for employment and hiring decisions can only be based on the skills and compatibility of the applicant for the job. Employers can't consider personal characteristics such as race, gender, national origin, religion or disability. Employers can't ask applicants about arrests, marital status or children. However, they can ask if a disabled applicant needs an accommodation to perform the job that's being offered.

Minimum Wage Laws and Overtime

Minimum wage and overtime laws are regulated by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Minnesota’s minimum wage is the same as the federal limit, $7.25 an hour. Although federal law allows employers to count tips toward the minimum wage, state employers can't consider the tips of service employees as part of their earnings. Employers cannot require their workers to share tips. Employers can pay employees under 20 years old $4.25 an hour for their first 90 days. Workers get overtime if they work over 48 hours a week unless they're specifically exempt. The federal standard of 40 hours applies to employers that produce or handle goods for interstate commerce or have gross sales over $500,000 a year, as well hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and state and federal agencies. Those exempt from the state minimum and overtime laws include most agricultural workers, bona fide executives, administrative and professional employees, amusement or recreational employees, and outside salespersons who earn commissions.

Workplace Safety

State and federal laws require safe and danger-free work areas for all employees. Employees are entitled to protection if they expose safety violations and they can report them anonymously.

Workers Compensation Insurance

Most employers must maintain workers compensation insurance, which is a no-fault system for workers who are injured on the job or who contract an occupational disease. Benefits include wage loss compensation, payment of medical bills and prescriptions, vocational rehabilitation, disability payments, and death benefits to survivors. Statutory guidelines control the amount of benefits to be paid. Workers not covered by workers compensation laws include low wage farm laborers, employed family members, and independent contractors.

Leave and Time Off

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies to those who work for companies with at least 50 employees, as well as all public and state employees. They must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year to qualify. Covered employees may take up to 12 weeks off after working for 12 months to care for a family member, a newborn, or a newly adopted child. This applies to employees who suffer serious medical conditions themselves as well. Employees may take up to 26 weeks off to care for a military family member. Minnesota allows people who work for companies with at least 21 employees to take off up to six weeks to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child. Employers with at least two employees must allow workers up to 16 hours of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to attend school-related activities for their children. All employees who are eligible to vote can take off as much time as necessary on Election Day without loss of pay or penalty.

Harassment Laws

Under state and federal law, employees must be protected from any form of workplace harassment. Harassment includes sexually explicit comments, jokes, photos, drawings, or sending emails that create a hostile working environment. Employees and supervisors may not engage in threatening or intimidating conduct or unwanted physical contact of any kind. Although harassment usually means sexual conduct, it also relates to offensive gestures, comments or other activities directed at workers because of their religion, national origin, gender, race or disability. If the conduct is ongoing or pervasive, the employer can be legally liable. Isolated incidents or simple teasing don't qualify as harassment. No employee can be disciplined, discharged, demoted or otherwise penalized as a result of harassment or because of his or her reaction to it. This includes employees who voluntarily resign because of a hostile work environment.

Legal and Wrongful Termination

Minnesota allows employers and employees to end their employment relationship at any time. Employers may fire an employee for any legal reason if there's no written contract or if the contract states that employment is “at will.” Illegal reasons for firing include those based on discrimination, harassment, pregnancy, age, work-related injury or illness. There are no federal laws regarding vacation pay, and Minnesota law doesn't require employers to pay accrued vacation compensation to fired or discharged workers unless its policy or contract requires it.

Unemployment and COBRA

To qualify for unemployment, residents or in-state workers must have been discharged through no fault of their own. They can't be disabled, they must be actively seeking work, and they must be able to work. Federal law requires that employers with at least 20 full-time workers allow discharged workers the right to continue group health benefits for up to 18 months. The state has a mini-COBRA law covering employers with two or more full-time workers. These companies must extend coverage up to 18 months from the day the group coverage ends.

Consult an Employment Attorney

State employment laws are complex. Consult a Minnesota employment attorney if you have questions regarding the laws that affect you.

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