By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

What determines one's disability status?

I have a service-related disability (30 percent) as classified by the VA (Veterans Administration). Would the state also classify me as disabled? If so, under what part of the law?

The Commissioner says:

Although VA medical records would be useful to us in making a determination of disability status, the VA classification, itself, would not require the Department of Human Rights to find that a person has a disability — that is, a physical, sensory or mental impairment which materially limits one or more major life activities. We would need to perform the same assessment as to whether the impairment-related restrictions were severe or prolonged enough to limit the individual in one or more major life activities.

Who pays when an employer requires a physical?

I work for a home health care agency, and my employer recently requested that all staff complete a physical exam. I had a physical before I was hired a couple of years ago, and they even have it on record. But I understand they forgot to ask some new employees to take a physical, so they are requiring it again of all employees, to avoid singling anyone out. My understanding is that they are able to request the physical, but aren't I entitled to reimbursement? I had the additional physical, and now I have a $125 doctor bill, and I am short on money. I have asked our human resources manager about reimbursement, but have been blown off multiple times without an answer.

The Commissioner says:

While employers' use of medical information can potentially fall under the scope of the Human Rights Act, the specific issue you raise — who pays for the cost of an exam — is outside of our jurisdiction. However, there is another Minnesota law, Statute 181.61, that in most cases requires employers to pay for required medical examinations:

181.61 MEDICAL EXAMINATION; RECORDS, COSTS: It is unlawful for any employer to require any employee or applicant for employment to pay the cost of a medical examination or the cost of furnishing any records required by the employer as a condition of employment, except certificates of attending physicians in connection with the administration of an employee's pension and disability benefit plan or citizenship papers or birth records.

Failure to accommodate reprisal?

My father has worked for the same company for 18 years, and about a year ago he had to go on long-term disability due to a problem with his wrists. Now that he's back on the job, his employer has not tried to accommodate his disability, but has been giving him different work that is more difficult to perform due to his disability. His employer then reprimands him for not going at a faster pace, and has also reprimanded him for using the restroom. Although my father has provided his employer with a copy of all upcoming doctors' appointments in advance, his employer has also reprimanded him for that, saying that he needs to provide notice — which he had already provided. Now he is being threatened with suspension for not going faster, doing a job they know is harder on his wrists. After an unpaid suspension, the next step would be termination. My father has never been written up or suspended in all the years he has been there, until now. What can he do?

The Commissioner says:

An employer with 15 or more employees is required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability under the Human Rights Act, and all employers, regardless of size, are prohibited from discriminating against an employee because of a disability. An employer is also prohibited under the Act from engaging in reprisal against an employee who has requested an accommodation. While the department cannot determine whether a violation of the Act has occurred without an investigation, we suggest that your father promptly contact us to discuss his options, including the possibility of filing a charge of discrimination.

Can you be fired for taking time off work to look for daycare?

Can an employer fire you for missing work due to losing daycare and trying to find new daycare?

The Commissioner says:

In most cases, yes — an employer can fire you for missing work to seek or provide daycare. In Minnesota and most other states, most employees are considered to be "at will." That means an employer can generally fire an employee at any time for any reason (or no reason at all), as long as it's not an illegal reason that would violate the state Human Rights Act or another law. A termination could be illegal if the employer treated some employees differently than others because of a characteristic protected under the Act. So, for example, if an employer fired a person of a particular race or gender for missing work, but would not have fired a person of a different race or gender in a comparable situation, there could be a violation of the Act. If you were terminated and have reason to believe that one of these protected characteristics was the reason, you may want to contact ua at 651-539-1100 to discuss your situation further.

Must employer grant a leave of absence for chemical dependency treatment?

My wife has admitted herself into a 28-day in-patient chemical dependency treatment program. Her request for a leave of absence from her employer was denied. Is this a violation of the ADA or any other civil rights law or regulation? The private company she works for employs fewer than 10 people, but does a lot of federally-funded work.

The Commissioner says:

Under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer may be required to grant a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability. However, the requirement does not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees. If an employer has fewer than 15 employees but is part of a larger, integrated company with more employees, the reasonable accommodation requirement could still apply. However, even though a employer with fewer than 15 employees may not be required to accommodate a disability, a employer with even one employee is prohibited under the Human Rights Act from discriminating against a disabled individual. So if an employer denied a leave of absence for an individual with a disability or a particular disability, but granted leaves of absence for employees who requested leave for other reasons, the employer could be in violation of the Act. If you or your spouse believe that a request for four weeks of leave might have been granted if it were requested for another reason, you may want to contact us to discuss your situation further.

Is it illegal to discriminate against a person of a lower "rank?"

To the Commissioner: Is it illegal for an employer or management to discriminate against a person because of their financial class or position at work? That is, does an employer or management have the right to treat those under them in an abusive, hostile manner just because the employee is not of the same ‘rank' as they are?

The Commissioner says:

The Minnesota Human Rights Act protects against employment discrimination based on characteristics that are specifically included in the Act. It might be unfair, but it is not illegal under the Act for an employer to treat employees in a hostile manner based on a reason or characteristic not covered under the Act — including the fact that the employee being adversely treated is of a different or subordinate "rank." However, if you think there is hostility toward subordinate employees because they are predominantly of a particular sex or racial group (for example), the issue may be jurisdictional to the Human Rights Act, and you could contact us to discuss your concerns. We can't speak to whether certain kinds of abusive behavior might be illegal under some other law or legal theory; the Department of Human Rights cannot give legal advice.

Fired because of a disability?

I was let go from my new job and when I asked for the reason, my employer said it was due to my hearing — I wear two hearing aides. Is it legal for my employer to fire me because of my disability? I can answer the phones if they are hearing-aid compatible.

The Commissioner says:

We would not be able to determine whether your situation may involve a violation of the Human Rights Act without a lot more information. An employer may not terminate an employee because of a disability. However, an employee may be terminated for performance issues, even if the unsatisfactory performance is related to a disability, and as long as the performance issues are not an excuse or pretext for discrimination. The situation becomes more complicated if an employer has 15 or more employees: in that case, the employer may be required under the Act to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability. A hearing-aid compatible phone is one example of a possible accommodation, but cases of disability discrimination are always fact-specific. We suggest you contact us at 651-539-1100 or 1-800-657-3704 (TTY: 651-296-1283) to discuss your situation further.

Does boss's yelling constitute discrimination?

Is having an employer stand over your desk, yelling, swearing and verbally abusing you a cause for a discrimination case? He will not listen to explanations; he just yells louder.

The Commissioner says:

Whether a boss's behavior might constitute discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act would depend upon why he is apparently acting in an abusive manner. A charge of discrimination must be based on a characteristic specifically protected under the Act. In employment, these protected characteristics include race, religion, gender, color, creed, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation and others. So if your boss's verbal abuse or other objectionable behavior somehow relates to your race, gender, age, or another protected characteristic, you may wish to contact us at 651-539-1100 to discuss your situation further. However, if your boss is yelling for some other reason unrelated to a protected characteristic, such behavior may be unfair and counterproductive, but it is probably not illegal under the Human Rights Act.

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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