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Employment Discrimination and the Minnesota Human Rights Act

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Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), employment is a protected area, and it is illegal to treat someone differently in employment because of their: race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, public assistance, age, sexual orientation, familial status, or local human rights commission activity. In addition, sexual harassment is considered sex discrimination under the Act, as is treating an employee adversely because of pregnancy.

Reprisal, aiding/abetting and obstruction are also prohibited practices under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The Act prohibits reprisal or retaliation because a person opposed a practice forbidden by the MHRA, filed a charge or participated in a matter brought under the Act; is a member of a local human rights commission; or because a person associated with a person or group of persons who are disabled or of a different race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. A reprisal includes, but is not limited to, any form of intimidation, retaliation, or harassment. The Act prohibits a person from aiding in a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, coercing a person to violate the law, obstructing a person's compliance with the Act, or interfering with the department's performance of its duties.

Who Must Comply with the Act?

Employers, employment agencies and labor unions are covered entities in employment under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, ยง363A.08.(The MHRA defines "Employer" to mean a person who has one or more employees.)

What Actions are Prohibited?

With limited exceptions, the following actions constitute a violation the Human Rights Act in employment when, because of a person's protected class status:

Labor organizations unfairly deny membership, fail to represent members, expel a member, or establish unfair terms, fail to refer for jobs, or otherwise treat members differently;

Employers unfairly refuse to hire, discharge, or establish unfair terms, conditions or privileges of employment;

Employment agencies unfairly refuse to refer a person for employment, reject job applications, or comply with discriminatory requests by employers;

Labor organizations, employers, employment agencies:

  • Require or request that a job applicant furnish information that pertains to protected characteristics or undergo a physical examination. (It is illegal in employment for an employer to request information pertaining to medical condition or disability prior to a conditional offer of employment. Essentially, the employer may only ask an applicant whether they can perform the job and how they would do so. Once an offer has been made, a medical exam/medical questions may be scheduled/asked with narrow provisions. For more on pre-employment practices, see hiring and interviewing).
  • Seek or obtain any information about a job applicant's protected characteristics for the purpose of making an employment decision; or to
  • Advertise a job vacancy, job opening or union membership with preferences, quotas, limitations or specifications regarding a protected characteristic.; or to
  • Fail to treat a woman affected by pregnancy or childbirth, or disabilities related to pregnancy or childbirth, the same as other persons who are not so affected, but who are similar in their ability or inability to work, including making reasonable accommodations.

Employers with 15 or more employees working 20 or more weeks per year fail to make reasonable accommodations to the known disability of a qualified disabled person unless it can be demonstrated that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship to the covered entity.

Examples of Employment Discrimination under the MHRA

If an employer does any of the following, because of a protected class-related reason, it would be considered illegal discrimination:

  • Refusing to hire someone;
  • Firing someone;
  • Paying a person less than they would pay someone who is of a different protected class status;
  • Disciplining a person more harshly than someone who is not of that protected class status;
  • Denying a person training or opportunities for advancement, compared to others not of that protected class status;
  • Treating a person differently with respect to breaks, vacations, sick leave, or other terms and conditions of employment;
  • Seeking information about a protected characteristic on a job application form or during a job interview;
  • Refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who has a disability and is qualified to do the job with an accommodation;
  • Retaliating against an employee because he or she has complained about a practice prohibited under the Human Rights Act (reprisal).