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What is a Wrongful Termination

Minnesota is an employment “at-will” state and there is no specific claim of wrongful termination. At will employment means an employee can quit for any reason and the employer can terminate an employee for any reason as long as that reason is not illegal. When we lawyers refer to wrongful termination we are speaking of the exceptions to terminations that are illegal for certain reasons. A termination may seem unfair, but not be illegal.  There are many exceptions to the at-will rule doctrine and these situations may arise to an illegal termination. The exceptions include when a contract is in place that states an employer cannot terminate without cause, an employee handbook or policy that limits the firing abilities of the employer, a union collective bargaining agreement that limits the firing abilities of the employer, whistle-blower claims (when an employee reports the company to a government agency that the company is doing something unethical or illegal), federal and state anti-discrimination or retaliation laws and numerous other federal and state employment laws.  There are many possibilities and it is important to discuss the specific facts of your case with an employment attorney.

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 wrongful termination of an employee 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.

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee based on a protected classes. 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 to the employer.  Most law applies to employers with 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 anti-discrimination laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for asserting their rights as well. For example, an employee complains to your company’s HR department that they believe they were 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.

If an employer commits an unlawful employment practice against an employee the employee can take legal action against the employer as well. Unlawful employment practices include discrimination based on the protected classes discussed above and retaliation claims. They also include an employer that takes action against employees who retaliate against or deny leave that falls under the Minnesota Parental Leave Law (MPLL) or the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Workers’ Compensation and various other laws. Legal action can also be taken against an employers when an employee blows the whistle on improper or illegal conduct within the company.

You should contact an experienced employment attorney if you have questions regarding wrongful terminations. Contact Holden Law Firm and ask to speak to John Holden to discuss your employment law questions.

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