Minnesota Wrongful Termination Laws

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Gavel and Scales

Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Minnesota, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.

But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. If your Minnesota employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, for example, you may have a legal claim against your employer.

Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Minnesota employer for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Minnesota employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Minnesota employment lawyer. To learn more about Minnesota employment law, contact the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Discriminatory Firing

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers with a certain number of employees must comply with these laws. Most types of discrimination are prohibited once an employer has at least 15 employees. However, the minimum is 20 employees for age discrimination and four employees for discrimination based on citizenship status. 

Minnesota law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, age (18 to 70), physical or mental disability, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or receipt of public assistance. All Minnesota employers, even those with only one employee, must comply with the state’s discrimination laws.   

These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.

Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination; the Department has offices in Saint Paul and Saint Cloud. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page

Breach of Contract

If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Minnesota, an employment contract may be written, oral, or implied. In the first two types of contracts, your employer makes oral or written promises not to fire you for a certain period of time without good cause. In an implied contract, your employer acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only for good cause, you may have an implied contract. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.

Wage and Hour Issues

The minimum wage in Minnesota is currently $8 an hour for large employers (those with $500,000 or more in annual gross revenue) and $6.50 for small employers (those with less than $500,000 in annual gross revenue). However, employers that are subject to federal wage laws (as most are) must pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. On August 1, 2015, Minnesota's minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour for large employers and $7.25 for small employers. On August 1, 2016, these rates will increase to $9.50 for large employers and $7.75 for small employers.

Under federal law, Minnesota employees who work more than 40 hours a week are eligible for overtime. Under Minnesota law, employees are eligible for overtime if they work more than 48 hours per week. 

Employees are also entitled to a meal break of sufficient unpaid time when they work eight consecutive hours or more. Employees are also entitled to an adequate paid rest break for every four consecutive hours worked in order to use the restroom. Under federal law, any breaks that are 20 minutes or less must typically be paid. 

It is illegal for employers to fire employees for making or planning to make wage complaints, testifying in wage proceedings, or instituting legal proceedings for wage violations.

Time Off Work

State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Minnesota, these rights include:

  • Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Under Minnesota law, employers may not interfere with or prevent an employee's military service. 
  • Voting. Employees in Minnesota are entitled to take as much paid time off as is necessary to get to the polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work.
  • Jury duty. Employers must allow employees to take unpaid leave for jury duty, and they may not threaten or coerce employees because of their jury service. Employers who fire or penalize employees for jury service may be subject to criminal penalties and special damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
  • Family and medical leave. Minnesota employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is over. Minnesota law requires employers with 21 or more employees to provide up to six weeks off for the birth or adoption of a child. Under state law, employees also have the right to use paid sick leave to care for a child and other family members. 
  • School conferences. Employers with 21 or more employees must provide up to 16 hours of unpaid time each year for employees to attend a child's school conferences or other activities that occur during work hours. 
  • Other protected leave. Minnesota law also provides time off for a variety of other purposes, including to donate organs or bone marrow (employers with 20 or more employees), to deal with the aftermath of domestic abuse, harassment, or violent crimes (all employers), to attend a send-off or homecoming ceremony for a family member in the military (all employers), and following the injury or death of a family member in the military (all employers). To learn more, see Nolo's article Minnesota Family and Medical Leave.

Other State Claims

  • Workers' compensation. Employers may not retaliate against workers who assert their rights under state workers' compensation laws. 
  • Workplace safety. Employers may not fire or retaliate against workers who report safety violations, cooperate in investigations of safety violations, or refuse to work in good faith until dangerous working conditions are corrected. 
  • Whistleblowing. Employers are prohibited from firing or otherwise retaliating against employees who, in good faith, report illegal activity or refuse to participate in illegal activity. 

What to Do Next

If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Minnesota employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above. Whether you want to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or sue your employer in court, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide on how best to proceed.

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