By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 13

In this column:

  • Must an Employer Follow its Own Handbook?
  • Belated Background Check Leads to Termination

Must an Employer Follow its Own Handbook?

When I asked my boss if I could have weekends off for two months following the recent birth of my baby, she refused. She said, "If I do that for one employee, I have to do that for all." Yet my employer has allowed another employee in the same department to have holidays and every Saturday off -- even though it states clearly in the employee handbook that weekend assignments will be rotated so that ALL employees, whenever possible, will be scheduled every other weekend. Isn't this a type of discrimination?

The Commissioner says:

Whether your rights are being violated because other employees are given more flexibility in their schedules depends upon why they are receiving more favorable treatment. Generally, employers don't have to be fair or consistent. It may be unfortunate that your employer is not following the policies set forth in its own handbook, but your employer's failure to do so does not necessarily indicate a violation of the Human Rights Act, or of any other law.

It's not a good business practice, but generally employers can give preferential treatment to certain employees, and not to others, without violating any law. But they can't treat an employee less favorably because of race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, receipt of public assistance, or a disability -- these are reasons specifically protected under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

You mentioned that you recently had a baby, and that your request for time off following childbirth was denied. If you have reason to believe that a male making a comparable request for time off would have received more favorable treatment, it is possible that your employer discriminated against you on the basis of sex -- we'd need more information to determine that. And if you requested time off following your pregnancy for health reasons, your employer would need to reasonably accommodate that request, just as if it were a disability -- though your employer could require documentation that the time off was medically necessary.

Belated Background Check Leads to Termination

Can an employer hire someone before their background check has been completed? I was hired and put in a training class for a week, but the following Monday I was told I was terminated due to some information uncovered in the background check. Isn't an employer supposed to check someone's background before they hire?

The Commissioner says:

Yes, an employer can hire someone before they have completed a background check. In fact, in most cases, an employer has no legal obligation to do a background check at all. It's unfortunate that your employer selected you for a training class, then terminated you in the middle of training based on belated background information. But while it might be a poor business practice, your employer appears to have done nothing illegal, despite the regrettable timing.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

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