When people suspect discrimination in the workplace, one of the things they worry most about is what will happen to them if they file a complaint. Both Minnesota and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employer retaliation when employees stand up for their rights. Nonetheless, many people fear that their employers will take some revenge anyway, especially if their claims fail.
Two housekeeping workers have filed a lawsuit against a Kaiser hospital in California and its contract cleaning service, claiming they were fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on unsanitary conditions that affected both workers and patients. The women were targeted not only as whistleblowers, they say, but also because they had filed workers’ compensation claims. Employer retaliation for either of those reasons by federal law and by the laws of both California and Minnesota.
It doesn’t appear that the shutdown of the federal government that began on Tuesday is likely to end quickly, that that could cause some headaches for workers. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor has had to put more than 80 percent of its workforce on furlough, leaving only 2,954 Labor Department employees on the job nationwide. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a division of the Labor Department, and its workforce has been cut even more deeply -- to 5 percent of its usual size. That means a total of 107 people are currently on staff at the EEOC.
When a company that operates a West Virginia mine adopted a new policy requiring its employees to track their time and attendance using a biometric hand scanner, a 35-year veteran at the mine had a serious problem. He is an Evangelical Christian, and he sincerely believes there is a strong connection between the technology and the Antichrist.
If you’ve ever worked as a home health aide or nursing assistant, you’re probably aware that these so-called “companionship services,” however vitally important, have not been subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that guarantees the minimum wage and overtime pay. Even when the U.S. Department of Labor revised the definition of companionship services in 2011, home healthcare workers were specifically excluded from FLSA coverage.
If you asked a random person on the streets of St. Paul if they liked their job, chances are they'd say no. But sometimes, it's not for the reasons most people might think. Sometimes, it's because they are in a hostile work environment but get little relief from management who may not be doing anything to remedy the situation. While this is against federal employment laws, we see situations like this happening in states across the nation.
The goal of our nation’s laws against discrimination is simply to give qualified people a fair chance at obtaining the employment they’re interested in. All most people want is an opportunity to prove they’re qualified to do the work and, if they are, have an equal shot at getting hired and fair treatment from their employers. Workplace discrimination takes those chances away.
Last year, two fired deans from Globe University / Minnesota School of Business filed unlawful discharge lawsuits claiming that they had been fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on misleading practices and ethical issues at the for-profit colleges. Under both Minnesota and federal law, employers are prohibited from retaliating against whistleblowers who come forward about perceived ethical or legal wrongdoing.
Across the arc of American history, our nation’s labor and employment laws have trended toward greater protection for workers from wage and hour abuse, but there have been setbacks. For example, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt 75 years ago, it had been watered down substantially from its original plan, which would have set a maximum workweek of 35 to 40 hours, with a minimum wage of $12 to $15 a week. Instead, the law as passed st the maximum workweek at 44 hours and the minimum wage at $11 a week. Moreover, it only applied to about 20 percent of the labor force.
An interesting wrongful termination ruling came recently from the State of New York’s Appellate Division, involving one of the nation’s largest wholesale grocery distributers, C&S Wholesale Grocers. While the specifics of New York law differ from that of Minnesota, the principles of the decision would apply here and in most U.S. jurisdictions.