By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 15

In this column:

  • Sexual Harassment on the Job
  • Termination Follows Transplant Procedure

Sexual Harassment on the Job

My supervisors ignore my complaints about harassing comments from a co-worker. I complained more than once and to more than one supervisor, but nothing has been done, and I am still required to work with this man. Other co-workers have heard the comments, too. Sexual harassment is not something I'm willing to be subjected to every day. But I need my job -- I'm a mother of teenagers trying to make ends meet, with no other income. How do I get someone to listen to me without getting fired? I'm very desperate and about to "lose it" at work.

The Commissioner says:

When an employer is made aware of conduct that is sexual harassment, the employer has a duty to take prompt and effective action to stop the harassment. It's worth noting that to qualify as sexual harassment under the state Human Rights Act, conduct must be of a sexual nature, unwelcome, and sufficiently pervasive to create a hostile environment -- a few isolated incidents or comments, even if offensive, may not qualify as harassment under the Act. Even so, employers would be wise to take any complaint of sexual harassment seriously, and many have policies that prohibit inappropriate conduct, even if it's not serious enough to be considered illegal.

If you and your co-workers are being subjected to unwelcome sexual comments every day, as you suggest, your employer may well be in violation of the Act by failing to take appropriate action. We suggest you contact our Intake unit at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704 to discuss your options, which may include filing a charge of discrimination with the Department of Human Rights.

You should also start keeping detailed records documenting incidents you found offensive, including what was said, dates, times and the names of witnesses. Also note the dates and times you met with your supervisor to complain about the behavior, and your supervisor's response. This information will help us investigate your complaint if you should file a charge.

Termination Follows Transplant Procedure

Today I was terminated from my position within a company I have been with for almost five years. In March of this year my health took a turn for the worse; I had a kidney transplant and obviously had to take some time off. In addition, I have had a number of doctor's visits, and instead of the 50 hours per week I had been working, I have only been able to work 40. When let go, my boss said she was exercising her right as an at-will employer in an at-will state, and there wasn't a specific reason for my termination.

I am distraught and worried since my medical bills, Medicare, prescriptions and such are an enormous part of my life. The fact that there isn't a reason for my termination makes it even harder to accept. Can you give me some feedback?

The Commissioner says:

It is true that in Minnesota, employees are in most cases considered "at will" and may be terminated at any time for any reason, or even for no reason -- as long as it's not an illegal reason. The fact that Minnesota is an "at will" employment state does not give an employer a license to violate the state Human Rights Act. And if your employer fired you because your health issues rise to the level of a disability, or because your employer regarded you as being disabled, you may be able to file a charge of discrimination under the Act.

In addition, your reference to Medicare suggests that you may be an older worker. If your age, or your age plus your health, was a factor in your termination, you may also be able to file a charge, even if a disability was not involved. Age and disability are both considered "protected classes" under the Act. There are also other state and federal laws that protect an employee from being fired for certain reasons. Of course, you may have been terminated for reasons that are not illegal; we can't know that without investigating. But if you believe you were let go because of a disability, a perceived disability, or because of your age, you should contact our Intake unit at 1-800-657-3704 or 651-296-5663.

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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