Minnesota Employment Laws and Requirements 

What age restrictions are there on jobs I can hold?

Federal and state laws require the secretary of labor and the Minnesota commissioner of labor and industry to determine if some jobs are unsuitable for minors and to issue rules that prohibit employment of minors in such occupations.

Currently, Minnesota law prohibits individuals who are under the age of 14 from being employed, however there are exemptions for agricultural operations, entertainers and models, newspaper carriers, babysitters, and youth athletic program referees. Regulations prohibit those who are 14 and 15 years old from working various jobs, including construction and repair, mining and manufacturing, warehouse jobs, and driving jobs. Laws also prohibit persons under 16 from working during school hours and working late hours while school is in session. No one under the age of 18 may do hazardous or dangerous work.

Also, liquor laws prohibit persons under age 18 from selling or serving beer or intoxicating liquor, although persons over age 16 can work as bus persons or can work in food preparation and service in places that sell beer and liquor incidental to food service or preparation.

Some occupations require licenses from the state. Generally, these licenses require that you must be at least 18. The licensing process usually has education, experience, and testing requirements.

Once you are 18, you are eligible for any kind of work. You are also protected from age discrimination in employment by the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and federal law. An employer cannot refuse to hire you or make decisions about your wages, promotions, or termination based upon your age.

What are my rights and responsibilities as an employee?

Generally, employers and employees are free to make whatever agreements they want about terms and conditions of employment so long as they comply with the minimum standards imposed by law.

The law imposes certain requirements on employers. For example, an employer must not discriminate against an employee on the basis of that employee’s “protected class status.” Under federal and Minnesota state laws, “protected classes” include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, familial status, status with regard to public assistance, disability, age, and sexual orientation. These “anti- discrimination” laws are enforced at the federal level by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), at the state level by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), and at the local level by various city and local human rights agencies.

Employers have many other obligations in addition to the anti- discrimination laws. Employers must pay at least the minimum wage, which is defined by federal and state laws. They must maintain a safe workplace. They must pay one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for overtime work. Under certain circumstances, they must allow an employee to take unpaid leave related to the employee’s own serious health condition, to care for a close family member with a serious health condition, or for the birth or adoption of a child.

There are many other such requirements. But beyond those requirements, employers and employees are free to agree on how employees will be paid, what kind of work they will do, their working hours, and what kind of work rules they will be required to follow.

Sometimes these agreements are just oral agreements between the employer and employee. Sometimes they are put into an employee handbook or a written contract.

Most employers expect the employee to become familiar with the rules in their workplace and to conform to those rules. They expect you to come to work when scheduled, to be at work on time, to be ready to work, to dress appropriately for the work you are doing, and not to engage in personal (non-work) activities while you are working.

If I think I am being discriminated against, what can I do?

If you think you are a victim of discrimination, you can consult with a lawyer or call the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or a local city civil rights agency. These agencies deal with employment discrimination based on protected class status. A lawyer can advise you about your rights in these areas. Again, it is important to contact one of these agencies and/or a lawyer quickly, to make sure you comply with the time requirements imposed by law.

What is a union?

In some workplaces, employees have formed or joined a formal organization called a union that represents the employees in dealing with their employers. Where a contract spells out the terms and conditions of employment, you may be asked to join the union and pay an initiation fee and union dues. Minnesota law provides that employees shall have the right of self-organization and the right to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in lawful, concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection. Employees also have the right NOT to participate in any and all such activities.

When interviewed for employment, what information may I keep private?

You do not have to answer questions about your age, race, sex, sexual orientation or religion, or your involvement in civil rights or religious organizations or organizations or clubs that would disclose your racial or ethnic background. You also do not have to answer questions about your medical condition or any handicap or disability you may have that does not relate to your ability to perform the job at which you are working. After you have been offered a job, an employer may require you to undergo a medical examination at the employer’s expense to determine if you are medically capable of performing essential duties of the job. And, you do not have to disclose criminal offenses that occurred before you turned 18, unless the juvenile court has ordered that these be treated as adult offenses.

Must I submit to drug and alcohol testing?

An employer may request or require a job applicant to undergo drug and alcohol testing provided a job offer has been made to the applicant and the same test is required of all job applicants conditionally offered employment for that position. Some employers have adopted written drug-testing policies that require all applicants to be tested for drugs or alcohol in their blood or urine. Minnesota and federal law set certain standards for such policies and provides certain protections for applicants. If an employer has such a policy, the applicant is entitled to examine a copy of it before deciding to undergo testing. An employer may withdraw its offer to hire you if you test positive in the initial test and a confirmatory test.

Once you become an employee, an employer can require you to submit to a drug or alcohol test under certain circumstances, including if the employer has a reasonable suspicion you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, as with pre-employment drug and alcohol testing, an employer must have a compliant drug and alcohol testing policy and permit employees to review the policy before requiring drug and alcohol testing.

What should I do if I lose my job?

What to do depends upon why you lost your job. The first thing you should probably do is to apply for unemployment compensation with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Unemployment compensation is a form of benefit payments to persons who are out of work through no fault of their own. If you qualify, you will receive for a period of time a weekly payment for each week you are unemployed, able to work, and actively seeking work after the first week of unemployment. If you lost your job because of lack of work, because your employer went out of business, or even because you lacked skill or ability to do the work, you may still be entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. However, if you voluntarily quit or were discharged for misconduct, you may not qualify for benefits. You should apply for benefits anyway to obtain a determination of your right to receive them. DEED will assist you in looking for another job and will explain the qualifications for receiving benefits.

If you think you were terminated unjustly, you may have other options. A lawyer will be able to advise you about your rights and claims if you were terminated in violation of the law. It is very important that you seek the help of a lawyer quickly, as there are specific time limitations for making certain types of employment claims, and if you miss the time frame, you may be unable to bring your claims forever.

Can I quit my job at any time?

Probably. Usually, the terms and conditions of your employment are contained in employee handbooks or separate agreements made between employers and employees. You can agree with your employer to give a certain amount of advance notice before quitting your employment. You can agree with your employer that your employment will be for a specific term, such as three months, one year, or longer. It is a good idea to have such agreements in writing. Most employment is of indefinite duration. In Minnesota, as in most states, in the absence of a written agreement or contract, employment of indefinite duration is said to be “at will.” That means that either the employee or the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any lawful reason.

As a matter of custom and courtesy, most employers expect their employees to give reasonable notice that they are quitting so that the employer can plan for a replacement. Usually two weeks is considered reasonable notice for most jobs. This can help you get a favorable reference from that employer for future employment.

If my boss does not keep his or her promises, what can I do?

First, it is best to calmly tell your boss how you think you have been treated unfairly and what you think needs to be done. Many disputes are cleared up in this way. If that does not work, you may wish to go to your boss’s superior and explain the problem.

If the problem relates to substantial matters involving wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment, you may have the right to sue your employer to enforce the promise. If that is the case, you may wish to consult an attorney.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to quit if your employer is not being honest or fair with you. If you quit because your employer is treating you unfairly or is being dishonest, you may still qualify for unemployment compensation benefits.

Can I be fired if I do not want to work late at night, extra hours, or a different job than I was hired for?

Yes. The terms of your employment as far as what your employer expects of you and what you expect of your employer determine your job requirements. If the terms of employment provide that the employer can assign you late night hours or overtime work, you can be terminated for refusing to do that. If your employer changes the terms of employment by instituting new work rules, hours, or job duties, generally you accept the new rules by staying on the job. If you quit because wages, hours, or other terms and conditions have been substantially changed by your employer, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.

If the company has a union contract, other written contract, or employee handbook that covers the conditions of your employment, you may be able to enforce the terms of the contract or handbook by following the procedures set out in them.

What is workers’ compensation? How and when do I get such benefits?

Workers’ compensation is a system for compensating workers for injuries arising out of their on-the-job employment. It is established by state law. The law requires employers to insure themselves against such claims by workers and provides compensation to workers for injuries or illness arising out of their employment, regardless of who was at fault. Employees may be entitled to compensation for wage loss and to payment of their medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, and retraining required because of such work-related injuries or illnesses.

To protect your right to such compensation, you must notify your employer immediately, or as soon as possible, if you suffer a work- related injury or illness. A workers’ compensation proceeding to enforce the claim must be started within three years after the employer has made written report of the injury to the Department of Labor and Industry, but not to exceed six years from the date of the accident.

How do I get my final paycheck?

Under Minnesota law, when an employer fires an employee, the employer must immediately pay the discharged employee all earned and unpaid wages upon written demand from the employee. If the wages are not paid within 24 hours, the employer is in default. In addition to recovering the unpaid wages, the discharged employee may recover a penalty equal to the amount of the employee’s average daily earnings at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each day, up to 15 days.

Minnesota law provides that when any employee quits, the wages or commissions earned and unpaid at the time the employee quits shall be paid in full not later than the first regularly scheduled payday following the employee’s final day of employment. If the first regularly scheduled payday is less than five calendar days after the employee’s final day of employment, full payment may be delayed until the second regularly scheduled payday, but shall not exceed a total of 20 calendar days following the employee’s final day of employment. If you have money or property of the employer in your possession, you must return it as quickly as possible. The employer is entitled to up to ten calendar days to account for the money or property before paying you your final wages.

If the employer fails to pay you within the specified time period after you quit, you should make a written demand for payment of unpaid wages and keep a copy of your demand. It is a good idea to mail the demand to your employer by certified mail so you can prove you sent it. If the employer fails to pay all money due you within the prescribed time period, you are entitled to sue the employer for any unpaid wages due, plus a penalty of one day’s wages for each day of delay up to 15 days. For purposes of this law, wages include salary and piece work (hourly wages), and commissions you earn in addition to salary or hourly wages.

If your former employer fails to pay you in accordance with Minnesota’s wage payment laws following your departure from employment, you may be able to enforce your rights in conciliation court without hiring an attorney. Alternatively, you may file a wage claim with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Can my parents take my paychecks?

If you are a minor, your parents can take your paychecks. If you are over 18 or if you are emancipated and living on your own and supporting yourself without assistance from your parents, you are entitled to keep your income.

Can my parents charge me for rent, food, and other expenses?

If you are over 18, you are no longer legally entitled to be furnished with food, clothing, or shelter by your parents. They are free to charge you for room and board and they are free to enter into any other lawful agreement with you about the use of their home, meals, use of their car, and other such expenses.

Have more questions?

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