Minnesota Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Minnesota Discipline: What you need to know

Many employers have a progressive discipline policy in place. Progressive discipline is a disciplinary model in which the severity of the penalty increases each time an employee commits an infraction. Generally, a progressive discipline scale begins with oral reprimands, followed by written warnings, suspensions, and finally, discharge. Progressive discipline procedures are most often found in collective bargaining agreements and in the public sector, but they are also found in the private sector.
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There are two major problems with having a progressive discipline procedure in an at-will employment relationship. First, it can be time-consuming to administer the steps and generate all the accompanying paperwork. Second, a progressive discipline procedure can, under certain circumstances, transform an otherwise at-will employment relationship into a contractual one.
Despite a strong presumption in favor of the at-will standard, the Minnesota courts have held that specific statements in an employee handbook or policy manual may create an employment contract. For example, courts have upheld an implied contract claim based on a statement made in an employee handbook that employees were entitled to a warning and a probationary period before discharge (Lewis v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc. of the U.S., 389 N.W.2d 876 (Minn. 1986)).
Disclaimers in a handbook (saying, for example, that no employee is guaranteed the right to progressive discipline) might preclude such an implied contract claim (Feges v. Perkins Restaurants, Inc., 483 N.W.2d 701 (1992)).
However, a disclaimer or change in a handbook will apply only to employees hired after the change or disclaimer is established unless the employer ...

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