Wrongful termination laws can exist at the state or federal level and are meant to serve as guidelines dictating how and when employers can terminate employee relationships. Additionally, wrongful termination laws are designed to give employees who are in fact wrongfully terminated options for seeking justice. It is critical that today’s employers comprehend what is considered wrongful termination (for example, a contractual breach) both at the state and federal level so that they can avoid being the subject of wrongful termination lawsuits. Many current wrongful termination laws are centered around the concept of at-will employment.
At-Will Employment in Minnesota
The term “at-will employment” essentially means that employers may terminate employees at any time and without good reason, as long as by doing so they aren’t infringing upon one’s given rights. Similarly, at-will employees may quit a job at any time, and for virtually any reason, in at-will employment states. Minnesota is considered an at-will employment state, and its employers and employees are subject to the rules of at-will employment. There are, however, a number of exceptions.
Wrongful Termination in Minnesota
Though Minnesota employers can terminate workers at any time and for just about any reason under the concept of at-will employment, some exceptions do apply. For example, employees cannot be terminated for discriminatory reasons (sex, color, religious affiliation, pregnancy status, etc.) or because they refuse to lie or engage in criminal activities on behalf of the employer. Employees under contract, whether oral or written, also cannot be terminated under state law. Any employer who violates these or other wrongful termination laws may be held accountable in a Minnesota court of law.
Breach of Contract: Employees who are working under contract (including collective bargaining contracts for unions) cannot be terminated by their employers, and they also cannot quit throughout the duration of the contract. These rules apply to written contracts as well as oral ones. Furthermore, Minnesota employers are bound by what they print in employee handbooks. For example, if a handbook says employees must be warned three times about infractions before they can be fired and an employee is fired without receiving any warnings, the employer can be sued for breach of contract.
Discrimination: Most of today’s wrongful termination lawsuits involve charges of discrimination. Minnesota’s employers may not fire employees who fall within “protective classes,” meaning they can’t generally terminate employees because of their religious beliefs, race, color, country of origin or disability status, among other areas. One exception to this is in the event that one’s religion, race, etc. is considered a genuine occupational qualification. In these rare situations, these classifications can be taken into account when making hiring decisions.
Retaliation: The state of Minnesota offers protection for whistleblowers who call attention to workplace issues such as unfair working conditions, unsanitary working conditions, sexual harassment or an employer’s failure to pay overtime, among related offenses. Employers are not allowed under state law to “retaliate” against employees who file complaints or who they otherwise feel are trying to harm them by firing them. Employers also may not terminate employees who refuse to engage in illegal or criminal activities on the employer’s behalf.
Public Policy: Though Minnesota is an at-will employment state, a number of exceptions exist. One of these exceptions involves the concept of public policy. Essentially, the concept of public policy dictates that Minnesota’s employees cannot be fired for reasons that society in general would consider illegitimate. For example, an employee cannot be fired for refusing to lie about its employers, because this action would be contradictory to public policy. Another example is that state employees cannot be terminated for reporting concerns about the quality of health care services provided by health care organizations. Most of Minnesota’s public policy protections for workers also fall under state statutory protections.
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