By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 27

In this column:

  • Are Cost of Living Raises Required?
  • Can You Be Paid Less Because Your Spouse Works for the Same Place?
  • Must City Accommodate a Pregnant Police Officer?

Are Cost of Living Raises Required?

I would like to know if there is a law in Minnesota that employers have to give at least a yearly cost of living raise to their employees? My friend has worked for four years for a company and never had a raise — I think that's horrible. I have encouraged him to go speak to his employer, but with the way the economy is lately he is just happy to have a job.

The Commissioner says:

There is no state law that requires an employer to provide a yearly cost of living raise — or any raise at all, at any interval. As long as the employer is paying at least the minimum wage required by Minnesota law (currently $6.15 per hour for larger employers and $5.25 for smaller employers), the employer can generally give or deny raises as the employer sees fit, unless there is a union or other contract that requires cost-of-living adjustments. There would be a potential violation of the law we enforce, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, only if the employer chose to discriminate with respect to compensation, based on a characteristic protected under the Act. For example, if an employer gave raises to employees of a certain race or gender, but not to employees of another race or gender — and race or gender was the reason for this discrepancy — that could be illegal. But one of the characteristics protected under the Act is the reason a raise has been denied, the employee probably has no recourse, other than to look for a better paying job.

Can You Be Paid Less Because Your Spouse Works for the Same Place?

I and my wife both work for the same government entity. I believe I am being paid less, and treated differently than other employees, simply because we both work there. I have been a good employee, never late, always do what I am asked to do, and I am getting very tired of it.

The Commissioner says:

With the possible exception of insurance benefits, your employer cannot pay you less than you would be paid otherwise, or treat you adversely with respect to other terms and conditions of employment, just because your wife happens to work for the same employer. Whether you and your wife work for a government entity or in the private sector, it is a violation of the Human Rights Act for an employer to base you or your wife's compensation on marital status — including the fact that you are married to another employee. As a neutral investigative agency, we cannot determine whether an individual situation involves a violation of the Act without getting all the facts. But if you believe you are being paid less because your wife is a co-worker, you may want to contact our intake unit at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704.

Must City Accommodate a Pregnant Police Officer?

I have a friend who is a city police officer. She is five months pregnant and still working "the street." She has asked her employer if there was a way to find work within the department that would be safer for her and her unborn child, less physically draining on her body, until the child is born. The department does not have a "light duty" policy in place and is unwilling to make accommodations for her. Does she have any legal rights?

The Commissioner says:

A city police department, like any other employer, is required under the Human Rights Act to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee's pregnancy, as long as it can do so without an undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation might involve transferring a pregnant employee to a position or assignment with duties that are less physically demanding (if such a position is available), or granting a leave of absence. If your friend believes her employer could reasonably accommodate her pregnancy but is refusing to do so, we suggest she contact our Intake Unit at 651-296- 5663 or 1-800-657-3704 to discuss filing a charge of discrimination.

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.

Column Archive

View a complete index of the Commissioner's Columns in the Column Archive.


Do you have a human rights question for the Commissioner?

Submit your question here.