By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 19

In this column:

  • A Felony Conviction Gets Employee Fired
  • Can "Cost-of-living" Increases be Conditioned on "Merit"?
  • When Can a Landlord Raise the Rent?

A Felony Conviction Gets Employee Fired

I was recently convicted of a felony and sentenced to 80 days of home monitoring (house arrest). When I advised my employer of this situation, I was terminated three hours later. I was told that because my position involved access to financial information, and I had described my conviction as "credit card fraud," I would have to be let go. But my crime was not the use of another person's credit card information -- the fraud involved my own credit card. And my job was to give "system support" to other employees accessing financial data -- I never, in the ten months I worked there, accessed any financial information myself. Is it lawful to terminate me based on what I might do or could do? Can anyone help me?

The Commissioner says:

Being convicted of a felony is not among those characteristics that are protected under the state Human Rights Act. Thus, there is nothing in the law we enforce to prevent an employer from firing you because of a conviction, whether or not it seems fair, or regardless of whether there is a relationship between the offense committed and the requirements of your job. Minnesota is considered an "at will" employment state, and employers have wide latitude to hire and fire as they see fit, as long as they don't violate any law. Your best option might be to contact an attorney who specializes in employment law.

Can "Cost-of-living" Increases be Conditioned on "Merit"?

Recently my supervisor informed me that employees would receive an across-the-board, cost-of-living adjustment. But when I received my next paycheck when the increase was to be effective, the raise was not on it. I was later told that I would not receive a raise because they wanted me to take two additional training classes. I was under the impression that cost-of-living adjustments were not supposed to be based on merit. Am I correct?

The Commissioner says:

Employers have wide latitude to set rates of pay and to give -- or not give -- raises. Unless there is a contract that says otherwise, an employer can give a "cost-of-living adjustment" that is based on merit, or not based on merit, or based on just about any criteria the employer chooses, as long as the basis does not involve illegal discrimination. If you were denied a cost-of-living adjustment or your pay rate was conditioned on special requirements not expected of other employees -- and that happened because of your race, gender, age, or another protected characteristic -- there would be the potential for a charge of discrimination. But in most cases your employer may grant or deny cost-of-living or other wage or salary adjustments as your employer sees fit.

When Can a Landlord Raise the Rent?

Is it legal for a landlord to raise your rent after living in a unit for only a few months, and for no reason at all?

The Commissioner says:

If your landlord was increasing the rent only for tenants of a certain race, sex, religion, national origin, or another reason protected under the Human Rights Act, that would be discrimination and illegal. But in general, your landlord's ability to increase the rent is covered by your lease agreement. If a building includes 12 or more rental units, a landlord must use a written lease. A lease would typically specify the amount of rent to be paid. When the lease expires, the landlord would in most cases be free to raise the rent to whatever level the market will bear. If a lease does not specify a definite term, it's considered a month-to-month lease. In that case, if a landlord wants to terminate your lease or raise your rent on November 1, for example, the landlord can do so, as long as your are given notice prior to October 1.

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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