5 Considerations Every Employer Should Know to Help Avoid Wrongful Termination Cases

Notice of employment termination with pen on note pad and deskMinnesota is an employment “at will” state. An employee can quit for any reason and an employer can fire employees for any reason – as long as that reason is not illegal. When an employer has good employment policies in place it will never be a surprise to the employee that they are being terminated, and the employee’s personnel file should clearly reflect the legitimate business reasons for the termination.

However, State and Federal employment law is complex and there are many situations in which an employer can unwarily terminate an employee illegally. These situations can result in a wrongful termination lawsuit and cost the company enormous time and money

Whenever terminating an employee, it is a good practice to have an employment attorney review the termination to discuss whether the employee may have a possible claim before the termination. The employment lawyer can review with you possible claims the employee may have and ways to protect the employer. An employment lawyer should be able to ask for the personnel file and in a short time understand the reasons for the termination.

There are five things to examine when considering an employee termination that can save the employer from a possible lawsuit.

  1. Contract Claims:

There are certain situations when an employee may have a contract or an implied contract that prevents an employer from terminating the employee for contractual reasons.  These include an employee handbook or policy, or a union collective bargaining agreement, that limit the firing abilities of the employer.

  1. State and Federal Anti-Discrimination laws:

Under state and federal law it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee based on a protected class.

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. Each federal law requires an employer have a certain number of employees before the law applies.  Most law applies to employers with at least 15 employees. The exceptions are a minimum of 20 employees for age discrimination and 4employees for discrimination based on citizenship status.

Minnesota law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, age, 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

  1. Retaliation Statutes:

The anti-discrimination laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for asserting their rights. For example, if an employee complains to your company’s HR department that they believe they are being disciplined unfairly because of their race, the employer may not discipline or terminate that employee for making that complaint. Likewise, an employer cannot terminate an employee 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.

  1. Employer Violations of State or Federal Statutes:

If an employer commits an illegal employment practice by violating a State or Federal statute, the employee can bring a legal action against the employer. This includes an employer that denies employee leave that falls under one of Minnesota or Federal leave laws, or retaliates against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim or various other laws. Legal action can also be taken against an employer when an employee blows the whistle on illegal or unethical conduct within the company.

There are both federal and state laws that give protections and rights to employees who have been terminated by a Minnesota employer and employers who are not aware of these laws can be sued for various reasons. Minnesota employment laws and federal laws are constantly changing and there are new court rulings that affect the employer and employee’s rights, and it is important to understand these laws in determining whether the termination was illegal.

  1. Claims alleging wrongful action by the Employer:

Wrongful actions that are based on a tort are also reasons for wrongful termination cases.  A tort is an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability. This would include claims by the employee of defamation, fraud and negligent or intentional infliction of emotional stress.

There are many exceptions to the employee at-will doctrine. It is important to discuss terminations with an employment attorney before an employee is terminated.  A review of your termination by an experienced employment attorney can save you from burdensome, costly and unnecessary litigation.

Contact John Holden of Holden Law Firm at (952) 943-3960 for answers to any questions you might have regarding terminations or other employment law matters. John provides knowledgeable, experienced legal counsel for employees and small businesses in the Twin Cities.

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