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Minnesota employers must understand workers' comp obligations

Many employers in the Twin Cities do not quite understand their legal responsibilities when it comes to hiring and firing. It is hard to expect them to, as employment regulations involve a complex intersection of ever-evolving Minnesota state and federal laws. Nonetheless, failing to comprehend the law is not an excuse for violating it and employers are often wise to seek legal counsel in order to ensure they do not run afoul of their legal obligations.

One area that employers often struggle with is workers' compensation. For example, in a recent case a delivery person injured his elbow and he was given doctor's orders not to work for a couple of weeks.

His supervisor was unhappy with this, and he told the worker to get medical clearance and come back to work. The worker complied, but his injury ended up worsening and this ultimately resulted in surgery. He received worker's compensation benefits at this point. After returning to work a second time, he suffered yet another injury. This time, the supervisor fired him while he was on leave, and another worker who was injured on the job was also fired.

The delivery person sued his employer, alleging that his termination was illegal retaliation. The court ruled in his favor.

Under Minnesota law, those who are injured on the job are not only entitled to compensation, but also a certain level of job protection. Employers do not have the right to penalize, intimidate, or fire employees who seek workers' compensation benefits.

An employer can face liability if a supervisor discourages injured workers from obtaining workers' compensation benefits or encourages workers to come back earlier than their doctors have recommended. Employers need to make sure that supervisors are well trained on their legal responsibility to respect a worker's rights to workers' compensation benefits. Often, employers or supervisors wrongly assume that because Minnesota is an at-will employment state--meaning workers can be fired with or without cause--that this allows them to cut their losses by terminating injury-prone workers. This, however, is a form of wrongful termination.

Source: Business Management Daily, "Warn bosses: Don't punish for workers' comp," April 17, 2014

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