What does "Employment-At-Will" Mean?

While it's a rule that applies to just about every employee in the state of Minnesota, here's what it's not:  it is not a rule that outright prohibits you from suing an employer for wrongful termination under any circumstances.  

The at-will doctrine is a general rule of American employment law that stands for the general notion that employees can quit a job whenever they want, for whatever reason, and without penalty. Likewise, employers are free to hire and fire at-will, except when the employer's reason for an employment decision is illegal

Think of it this way: the "at-will" doctrine is the general rule and employment laws create exceptions to the rule.  That's where employment lawyers can help. If your termination feels wrongful, it's worth it to talk to an attorney to see if there's a law that protects you.  Read more about wrongful terminations   

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Is Minnesota a "Right to Work" state?

No.  Minnesota is not a "right to work" state. 

Right-to-work laws are statutes in 28 U.S. states that prohibit union security agreements. Under these laws employees in unionized workplaces may not be compelled to join a union, nor compelled to pay for any part of the cost of union representation.

In short, this means Minnesota law allows negotiation of a union security clause that requires all workers who receive the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement to pay union dues ( i.e., the proportion of union dues related to collective bargaining expenses).  This applies to public and private employers.

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Do I have a right to see my personnel file?

Yes, in Minnesota employees do have a right to see their personnel files. Under state law, Minnesota employers must permit employees to see their personnel file at least once every six months and upon separation. Upon separation, employees are actually entitled to a copy of the file and employers cannot charge for the copy. Former employees have a right to see their personnel file for up to one year after separation from the employer. Current employees must be shown their file within seven days if the file is located within the state, 14 days if the file is located outside of Minnesota. Read the state statute that gives you this right.

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Does my former employer have to explain why I was fired?

Yes. But time is of the essence if you want this in writing.

Under Minnesota law, an employee who has been involuntarily terminated may, within 15 working days following such termination, request in writing that the employer inform the employee of the reason for the termination. Within ten working days following receipt of such request, an employer shall inform the terminated employee in writing of the truthful reason for the termination.

If you're fired, it can be a good idea to send a short, simple note to the employer asking for the reason for termination so you get that reason committed in writing, especially if you think the reason doesn't add up. Schedule a consultation with us to see where to go from there

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Does my employer have to pay me my unused vacation or sick time after firing me?

Not necessarily. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled on this question and concluded that payment of unused vacation, sick, or PTO is a matter that is "wholly contractual."  That means, it's up to your employer—so look to the employer's written policies and past practices. If you are being treated differently than other employees, that could be evidence of discrimination. 

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How long does my former employer have to pay me my final check after firing me?

24 hours. If the employee is a salesperson who has earned commissions through the last day of employment, the employer shall pay those commissions earned through the last day of a terminated employee's employment on demand and no later than three working days after the salesperson's last day of work.   

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Can I use my smart phone to secretly record conversations between my manager and me?

Yes, it's legal in Minnesota—with caveats. One thing is certain: more and more people are doing this and capturing some really provocative evidence.

In Minnesota, it is legal to secretly record a conversation so long as you—the person doing the recording—are a party to the conversation. This is called a "one party consent" rule. 

Point of caution: if you are using your smart phone to record a conversation you are having on speakerphone via a landline, you need to know the location of the speaker(s) on the line because some states have "two party consent" rules requiring that you and your manager, for example, know that the recording is taking place.

Violations of these rules can implicate state and federal wiretapping laws and can have criminal consequences.  So consult a lawyer if you are unsure

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What is a contingent fee arrangement?

To borrow the line from the personal injury lawyers on television, it means "we don't get paid unless you get paid."  In other words, our fee is contingent upon an award.  If there's no award, there's no fee.

That's a risk that lawyers like us are willing to take—and it's another reason why we sometimes have to be ultra-selective and discerning as to the cases we'll take on a contingent-fee basis. The risk-to-reward ratio has twin policy goals:  for legal consumers like you, it means access to legal services many may not be able to afford under hourly fee models; for lawyers like us, the model allows us to stay in business and provide access to legal services to people who could never afford to pay us by the hour (the way corporations pay their lawyers). 

In most employment cases, the contingency fee is 40% of the total amount recovered. In some cases, it may be less expensive for you to pay your attorney by-the-hour. You should discuss all of payment options with your attorney before signing up for representation. Read more about our fees—we're pretty transparent about them

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When will you take a case on contingency?

The simplest answer is this: we can only take cases on a contingent-fee basis if there's a reasonable prospect that there will be a monetary recovery sufficient to both make you whole and account for our fee. 

In all other circumstances, we can only work on an hourly fee basis, flat fee basis, or sometimes on some manner of hybrid fee arrangement. We are both flexible and fully transparent in explaining your options and the risks and potential upside to various courses of action. Read more about our fees—we're pretty transparent about them

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How long does a lawsuit take?

Classic lawyer answer: it depends. Here's a sample timeline using a hypothetical case that follows an "average" timeline:

  • Months 1-3:  Initial consultation, pre-suit investigation, negotiations with opposing counsel
  • Month 4:  Communications with opposing counsel break down
  • Month 5:  Lawsuit filed in Court
  • Month 6:  Defendant Answers the complaint
  • Month 7:  the 9-10 month "discovery" process commences
  • Month 17: Defendant moves for "summary judgment" to dismiss the case
  • Month 20: Judge rules on defendant's motion (denying it!) and sets the case for trial 
  • Month 22:  Trial 

The process can take longer. Other cases can also settle within 4-6 months (or less), before any lawsuit is filed. 

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Is it necessary for me to hire a lawyer to look at my severance agreement?

Not always. We're not interested in earning a couple hundred bucks by calling you into our office to tell you the obvious. Sometimes severance agreements are straightforward: there's been a reduction-in-force with layoffs affecting many, the reasoning seems legit (the company is in trouble) and you are looking at a modest sum of money in exchange for a release of legal claims you might (or likely don't) have against the company. 

But then there are a host of other potential complications that might make discussing the situation with a lawyer well worth the time and money (a flat fee for us). We can help you understand the contract if it's completely foreign to you, delve into the specifics of your employment to see if there's legal leverage to use in negotiating a better deal, and answer any other of dozens of potential questions. There's no harm in starting with one of our 20-minute, Free Case Evaluation calls. Schedule a consultation right now

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Will my lawsuit become searchable on the web?

It could be and it's safe to assume that one day, it probably will turn up on a web search of your name. Here's the thing: today, there still exists a huge gap between public court filings (especially in state court) and the worldwide web. But every day, information service companies are closing that gap and one day, we can assume that public filings may be readily available from any computer anywhere. They are "public" filings, after all. You should also know that the most thorough of background check companies used by employers who want to do serious, deep-dive background checks also can turn up civil suits.

But it's also worth noting here that many disputes get resolved before a case is ever filed publicly in court—and that employers have their own reasons for wanting to keep lawsuits out of court. So from a leverage standpoint, employer and employee are on a pretty even playing field most of the time on this issue.  

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How much work will I have to do in fighting this dispute against my employer?

The amount of time you will have to invest will vary but you can safely assume that you'll have an oar to pull in this team effort.

We once heard another employment lawyer say that he tells clients that filing an employment claim against an employer "is not like filing an insurance claim." We love that analogy. You will not be walking into our office, telling us your story in 60 or 90 minutes, filling out a form, and walking away with the ball in our court to recover you a healthy sum of money. That's not how this works. 

Whether we're in a pre-litigation posture with the employer or in the throes of a civil lawsuit, you'll be an equal player in this effort. Sometimes we'll be asking you to respond to the other side's letters line-by-line so we can refute their trash talking. Other times you may be answering pages of interrogatories (questions) in the discovery process that have been served by the defendant's counsel. We'll spend hours preparing for your deposition. Your deposition itself will take hours (all day, in fact). We think you're probably getting the idea. 

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The legal community seems small—how do I know you're not in cahoots with the other side's lawyers?

Never would be. Our loyalty (not to mention ethical duty) is to our client and our client only. 

We'll be talking on the phone a lot with opposing counsel. We'll always keep you in the loop about those communications—the tone, tenor, and direction we think they're headed. 

We also happen to pride ourselves on maintaining collegial and oftentimes friendly relationships with the local bench and bar. This is a relatively small town and we believe, at the end of that day, that strong and amiable relationships with opposing counsel serve our clients' end goals because we can all be approaching your problems (and their clients' problems) from a place of ethical trust and respect. On the other hand, when opposing counsel gets nasty or shady, we take the high road and use all the robust court rules at our disposal to maintain control of your story and in command of our journey towards a favorable resolution. We get a good chuckle out of lawyers who make everything personal. How stressful! What a terrible way to live! 

Unyielding advocacy is the name of our game. Unyielding advocacy comes in all shapes and sizes (and volumes). Our style is to use our legal acumen and superior communication skills to be our clients' strongest advocates. If you want a loud, sloppy bulldog who thinks he or she knows better than you, we can probably point you in the right direction.   

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