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Termination for Off-Work Injury

Hello. We are a company with over 50 employees. An employee that has been with us for 45 days was injured 2 weeks ago in a non-work related incident. He has not been able to return to work so we replaced him with another applicant. We now wish to terminate his employment. We are an at-will company in Minnesota. Questions: Are we obligated to give him reasons? Is he eligible for unemployment? Should he be given severance (we do not have severance policy)? Up to this date we have been excusing his absence. Thanks in advance.

Minnesota, like most states, has an at-will-employment doctrine. Meaning, either an employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time with or without cause.

An employer cannot terminate an employee based on personal characteristics as defined under both federal and state laws. Under these laws, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on sex (including pregnancy and childbirth), sexual orientation or identity, genetic information, disability, age (over 40), national origin, race, color, religion or citizenship status.

Also, if a collective bargaining agreement, employment contract, employee handbook or company policy states that an employee may only be terminated for cause or under certain situations and must be informed of the reason for termination, the employer must abide by the agreement.

There is no Minnesota law that requires employers to inform employees of the reason for their discharge at the time of termination. However, an employee is entitled to request such information from the employer. The request must be in writing and submitted within 15 working days of the termination. The employer has 10 working days from receipt of the request to provide a truthful reason in writing for the termination.

Though an employer may not be legally obligated to immediately disclose the reason for termination, it’s often advised to do so in order to reduce the risk of a wrongful termination claim. By not informing an employee as to why he is being terminated, he is forced to assume any reason he can think of. If he happens to be the only minority employee or one of the oldest employees or the only employee with a disability, he may assume he was terminated based on these reasons. If the employee then filed a wrongful termination claim, the employer would be required to prove the actual reason for the termination in court.

Additionally, employees who feel they’ve been treated unjustly are likely to discuss their bad experience with anyone who will listen. Meaning, the employer’s reputation could significantly suffer.

Unemployment insurance programs are administered by each state which establishes eligibility requirements. In Minnesota, an individual must be unemployed through no fault of their own, be actively seeking employment, and be ready and available to work immediately. So, an employee who is unable to work due to an injury would most likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

However, it’s impossible to determine if an employee is truly ineligible for benefits. Unemployment divisions across the country have been lenient with eligibility requirements in the past few years. It is up to the individual to file for unemployment benefits and the unemployment division to consider his eligibility. If he is deemed eligible, it’s then up to the employer to appeal the decision and prove ineligibility. For example, if the employee is terminated due to his inability to work, the employer should be able to provide evidence of the employee not being willing or able to perform his work duties.

There is no legal requirement for Minnesota to provide a severance package to a terminated employee. Company policy determines if any benefits, such as vacation/sick time and severance packages, are due upon separation of employment.

On a last note, leave laws are not applicable in this case since the employee has only been employed with the company for 45 days. However, if the company has a practice of providing leaves of absence to employees temporarily unable to work, the same benefit should be awarded to this employee. Treating similarly situated employees equitably reduces the risk of a wrongful termination claim. Also, consider if there have been any promises, even implied ones, provided to the employee regarding holding his job. If so, these should be addressed prior to termination. Again, doing so reduces the risk of wrongful termination claim. HTH!

This entry was posted on Friday, July 17th, 2015 at 6:48 pm and is filed under
Benefits, Compensation, Labor Laws, Termination.
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