By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 26

In this column:

  • Drug-Free Workplaces Polices: What's Legal
  • Did Pregnancy Lead To Job Loss?
  • Discrimination Defined

Drug-Free Workplace Policies: What's Legal

We are in the process of re-writing our drug-free workplace policy, and we have some questions: If we find an employee in possession of an illegal drug, can we terminate their employment if we have a work rule that states this? Or are we required to have them tested for illegal drugs? If they test positive, are we required to offer them the opportunity to participate in a rehab program? If they refuse, can we terminate them? And what if they don't test positive, but were just in possession? This was an illegal act! Do we have to keep them employed?

The Commissioner says:

If you find an employee in possession of an illegal drug, you can generally terminate their employment, whether or not you have a work rule that covers employee drug use. You are generally not required to test any employee for drugs. However, you may do so, per the conditions and limitations set forth in Minnesota Statutes 181.951, 181.952, 181.953, and 181.954.

We enforce the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Under the Act, you could be required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who came to you seeking help for a problem with alcohol or drugs, and such an accommodation might include time off to participate in a rehabilitation program. But an employer is not required to tolerate illegal behavior or poor performance, or required to provide an accommodation "after-the-fact" when illegal behavior, poor performance or violations of policy have already occurred.

Did Pregnancy Lead To Job Loss?

My daughter-in-law was just released from her job. The reason given was that her position was cut. She is 7 1/2 months pregnant. She feels that the business did not want to pay for her maternity leave after the baby was born. What rights does she have in this situation?

The Commissioner says:

With few exceptions, the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits employers from terminating a person's employment due to pregnancy, childbirth or related disabilities, or due to medical or health insurance costs related to those conditions. Depending upon the size of your daughter-in-law's former employer, state or federal law may have entitled her to time off of work following the delivery of her baby; whether a new parent is paid for leave time, however, depends upon each employer's regular business practices, with regard to leaves of absence. But in any case, if your daughter-in-law believes that she was terminated because of her pregnancy, she should contact our intake unit at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704 to discuss filing a charge of discrimination.

Discrimination Defined

Can a person be a victim of discrimination for reasons other than race, sex, religion, and the other reasons listed in the Human Rights Act? If an individual is denied service at a place of business because of the way they look, or smell, or behave, isn't that also discrimination?

The Commissioner says:

Discrimination, as defined by the Human Rights Act, necessarily involves adverse treatment because of a characteristic that is specifically protected -- such as race, sex, national origin, religion, a disability, and others included in the Act. However, there are cases in which an act or policy that might not intentionally discriminate against a specific class could still be illegal discrimination. If a bar or restaurant had a dress code that had an adverse impact on members of a certain class -- that prevented them from wearing attire required by their religion, for example -- such a policy could be discriminatory and in violation of the Act, even if the intent was not to discriminate. But a public accommodation that refuses service to an individual for a reason unrelated to a protected class (including that person's behavior) can probably do so, even if the reason seems arbitrary or unfair.

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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