By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 30

Column 30; In this column:

  • Can a landlord refuse to rent an apartment because of age?
  • Can my boss refuse to let me take a vacation?
  • Can an employer jokingly threaten to fire someone?
  • Can a medical center require employees to be vaccinated?
  • Can employees be required to sign in and out for restroom breaks?
  • Fired for taking down a cartoon? What are employee's rights?
  • Must assisted living facilities provide accessible automatic doors?

Can a landlord refuse to rent an apartment because of age?

I’m currently renting a house from a landlord with two others, we are all 24 or 25, but the house has been sold and we are looking to move. We found a home we are interested in, but the owner informed me he didn’t want to rent his home to us, due to our ages. Is this legal? In his rental ad, he did not have any age limits. We are more than able to make the rent.

The Commissioner says:

Although age discrimination is prohibited in employment and in education, age is not a protected characteristic in the housing area under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Thus, a landlord can refuse to rent to a tenant or tenants because of their age(s), as long as some other discriminatory factor is not involved. For example, if a landlord were to refuse to rent to younger people of a certain race or national origin, but not impose the same age restriction when renting to people of another race or national origin, that would likely be illegal discrimination—but on the basis of race or national origin, not on the basis of age. If age was the sole reason you were refused an apartment, you would have no recourse under the Human Rights Act. If you think some other factor may have been involved, you may want to contact us at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704 to discuss filing a charge of discrimination.

Can my boss refuse to let me take a vacation?

I need to know if I have a right to a vacation. I work for a motel in a Twin Cities suburb. I have been there for three years, but I have no benefits, no medical insurance, and no paid vacations. But just like everyone else, after working full time for an entire year, I need a break. I told the manager (who is very racist) that I needed to take a vacation—without pay—before my kids went back to school, so I could do something with them. He told me that if I wanted a vacation, I had to find someone to work for me. Otherwise, when I came back he would only give me two hours per night, instead of full time work. Can he do that? They are not paying for me to take a vacation, so why don’t they want me to take it ? I can’t lose my job, but I am tired and I need a break.

The Commissioner says:

It may be that everyone needs a vacation now and then, but there is no employee "right" to a vacation, paid or unpaid. Employers are required under Minnesota law to provide restroom and meal breaks during the work day, and to pay overtime for work in excess of 48 hours per week. These and related laws are enforced by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

You mention that you consider your manager "very racist." Are other employees of a different race or national origin being allowed to take vacations? Are they required to find someone to work for them? If you believe you are being treated worse than other employees, and that your race or national origin is the reason for this treatment, you may wish to contact us at 651-296-5663 to discuss your situation further.

Can an employer jokingly threaten to fire someone?

Is it ever appropriate for a supervisor to threaten an employee's employment in front of others, even in a joking manner?

The Commissioner says:

The Department of Human Rights does not pass judgment on what is or is not appropriate workplace conduct for supervisors or anyone else—such matters are outside of our jurisdiction, unless the conduct involves a potential violation of the Human Rights Act. While threatening an employee’s job in front of coworkers may be a poor management practice, such conduct would not be illegal under the Human Rights Act, unless the employee whose job was threatened was being singled out because of his or her race, religion, age, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, a disability, or another characteristic protected under the Act.

Can a medical center require employees to be vaccinated?

Can a county medical center employer require employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment? The healthcare industry is considering mandatory vaccinations because of H1N1, and I would like to be confident that legally we can mandate influenza immunization as a fitness for duty requirement (absent a medical or religious reason).

The Commissioner says:

The Minnesota Human Rights Act does not address the issue of mandatory vaccinations. The Act does require that employers not discriminate on the basis of disability or religion (or other protected characteristics). If an individual had a medical condition, rising to the level of a disability, that could be adversely affected by a vaccination, it is possible that an employer could be required to exclude this individual from its vaccination requirement, as a reasonable accommodation for that individual’s disability. The duty to not discriminate on the basis of religion can in some cases include a requirement to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. So it is conceivable that an employer could also be required to exclude an individual who opposed vaccination on religious grounds, as an accommodation for that person’s religion. In cases involving reasonable accommodation, it is difficult to identify a “general rule” that would be applicable in all situations. More information about reasonable accommodation in disability cases is available on our web site.

Can employees be required to sign in and out for restroom breaks?

I work for a medical company here in Minnesota and my supervisor has instituted a policy requiring all employees in our department to sign in and out on a prepared form for restroom breaks, and state the time they leave and the time they return. Is this acceptable? Isn’t this a violation of one’s right to a free and non-hostile work environment?

The Commissioner says:

The restroom break policy you describe does not appear to violate the law we enforce, the state Human Rights Act, unless it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion. For example, if an employer required members of a certain race or national origin (or other protected characteristic) to sign in and out to use the restroom, but did not have the same requirement for members of another race or national origin, there could be a potential violation of the Act. Other protected characteristics include age, gender, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, color, creed, public assistance status, and religion. There are laws that deal specifically with restroom and meal breaks, and these are enforced by the state Department of Labor and Industry. You can find more information about those laws on the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry web site.

Fired for taking down a cartoon? What are employee's rights?

A coworker of mine was offended by a cartoon depicting President Obama as a "Steve Erkle" character and the economy drowning as a result. This was posted by the administrator in the entryway of the facility where the public must pass. This coworker took the cartoon down. As a result, the coworker was verbally accosted by the administrator and put on suspension. Does she have any rights in this regard?

The Commissioner says:

Was the coworker who took down the cartoon offended because it criticized the president, because the coworker believed it was inappropriate to display a political cartoon in an area accessible to the public, or because the coworker believed the cartoon stereotyped African Americans and could create a hostile environment for African Americans in his or her workplace? If the coworker was offended by the cartoon because the coworker believed its posting could constitute discrimination, it might have been preferable for the coworker to raise that issue with the administrator, a supervisor, or to follow other procedures the company may have in place for filing a complaint about discrimination—assuming the company has such procedures. But since the coworker chose to take down the cartoon on his or her own initiative, whether the resulting disciplinary action was discriminatory could depend in large part on company’s reason for the discipline. If the coworker objected to the cartoon because she considered it racially offensive, or if the coworker believes the suspension was an act of reprisal for objecting to behavior he or she viewed as discriminatory, the coworker may want to contact our intake unit to discuss filing a charge of discrimination.

Must assisted living facilities provide accessible automatic doors?

Do assisted living communities have to have automatic, handicap accessible doors on every floor with outdoor egress? It makes it difficult for older people in wheelchairs to access a building when there is no automatic door. Is there a requirement for such a door in new construction?

The Commissioner says:

The Minnesota Human Rights Act requires assisted living facilities (as well as all other public accommodations) to not discriminate against individuals with disabilities, and to provide reasonable accommodation to the known physical, sensory, or mental disability of a disabled person. The Act does not set specific requirements for the type or locations of doors, nor does it specify what type of accommodation would be reasonable in any individual case. Cases of disability discrimination tend to be fact-specific. If you believe people with disabilities are being denied access to the facility you mention, and/or if you have requested an accommodation (such as an automatic door) and it has been denied, you may want to contact us at 651-296-5663 to discuss the situation further. You may also wish to contact the Minnesota State Council on Disability, which serves as a resource for disability issues and may be able to provide you with further information on your accessibility question.

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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