By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 18

In this column:

  • Can I Quit and Intolerable Job and Collect "Unemployment?
  • Drug Bust Gets Innocent Roommate Evicted
  • Can an Employer Require Workers to Speak English Only?

Can I Quit an Intolerable Job and Collect "Unemployment?

There are four of us in a six-person office, and we are so frustrated with our boss that we are all ready to quit. She targets one person at a time for petty things and finds fault with our every move. Several of us have been written up for unfair things -- she's always changing the rules, and blaming us for things that are her fault. The tension is so great that three of the four are always in tears. I am sick to my stomach most of the time and dread every day I have to be there. What we want to know is, can we draw unemployment if we walk out? None of us can afford to lose our jobs, but we can't take the pressure anymore. What can we do?

The Commissioner says:

We can't advise you what to do in your situation, but we can tell you that,in general, an employee who voluntarily quits a job is not eligible for re-employment insurance. There are some exceptions. If a work situation becomes so intolerable that any reasonable employee would be compelled to quit, an employee in that situation could claim what is called a "constructive discharge." An employee who was "constructively discharged" would have many of the same rights as one who was terminated officially. Be aware that constructive discharge can be difficult to prove, and the standard for what constitutes a work situation that is truly intolerable tends to be high. If you were to quit and claim constructive discharge, your employer could contest that claim, and there is no guarantee that your position would prevail. Only you can decide whether to endure a difficult situation, quit, or seek employment elsewhere.

Drug Bust Gets Innocent Roommate Evicted

My son and one of his roommates were evicted from their apartment because the third roommate was busted for selling drugs. My son and the other roommate had no idea that the third person was involved in this; now the two innocent young men are unable to find anyone to rent to them. In my mind they are being discriminated against because of the actions of the third person. What are their rights?

The Commissioner says:

While your son appears to be an unfortunate victim of "guilt by association," landlords who decline to rent to him for the reason you've cited aren't necessarily breaking any law. Under the state Human Rights Act, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate on the basis of certain specific characteristics, including race, color, creed, religion, national origin, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, familial status and a few others. It would also be illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a tenant because he or she associated with a person whose race, color, creed, or other protected characteristic was not to the landlord's liking. But a landlord can choose not to rent to a potential tenant for just about any reason that's not specifically illegal, whether or not that reason seems fair.

Can an Employer Require Workers to Speak English Only?

I am wondering where the law stands on language discrimination. Can an employer force an employee who speaks another language to only speak that language on a break time? The employer states that other employees are worried this person may be talking about them, so while on duty they are not allowed to speak their native language. Can the employer do this?

The Commissioner says:

An employer can require an employee to speak English while on the job only if there is a valid business justification for this requirement. An employer might require employees to speak English when communicating with English-speaking customers, or with their supervisor, or in cases in which safety concerns require that everyone communicate in the same language. But to prohibit the speaking of a language other than English, solely because some employees fear that they are being "talked about," is not a valid business justification. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, such a prohibition would likely be considered illegal discrimination on the basis of national origin.

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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