The USA Today Network conducted an investigation into how U.S. law enforcement officers with records of serious misconduct continue to work, some of whom have been hired as police chiefs and sheriffs thorough out the country. USA Today reporters spent a year analyzing disciplinary records from hundreds of law enforcement agencies and state licensing boards, gathering information on police wrongdoing. They have created a database of more than 30,000 law enforcement officers who have had their licenses decertified or suspended. You can search the database by entering: Name, State or Agency. On the list are 98 Minnesota law enforcement officers, of which 32 are police chiefs and 2 sheriffs.   In Minnesota, many of these police chiefs were disciplined for failure to train or document training of officers.

The report has aired on CBS This morning, and focused on the Amsterdam, Ohio Police Chief Cimperman who despite numerous employment issues in his past was hired as the police chief in 2015. The USA Today network investigation discovered small police departments often don’t perform thorough background investigations on prospective chief candidates.

Currently, the law enforcement profession is struggling to attract qualified recruits, and this isn’t expected to change in the coming years. This is even more challenging in smaller communities where the pay and benefits aren’t as great.



This investigation has helped to bring some transparency to the misconduct issues in law enforcement. Minnesota law enforcement agencies need to do thorough background checks when hiring new officers.

The Los Angeles City Council is currently considering an ordinance titled the “Fair Workweek” which would affect large employers in Los Angeles, including Target, Home Depot and Goodwill to name a few.  Under the Los Angeles ordinance, employers would have to give workers two weeks’ advance notice of their work schedule, and employees would have the right to request a schedule change or decline hours without retaliation.  Additionally, employers would have to allow employees a minimum of ten hours off between shifts.  The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to prevent employers from scheduling employees to work late/close on one day and return the following morning to open, a practice commonly referred to as “clopening”.

The proposed ordinance by the Los Angeles City Council is part of a national movement to require employers to establish stable hourly schedules for low wage workers.  Similar workweek ordinances have already been passed in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco.

The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have already adopted ordinances mandating paid sick and safe time for employers in their cities.  It is only a matter of time before this new fair workweek movement makes its way to Minnesota.  Employers should be aware of what is occurring in their cities, so they have an opportunity to be heard if needed.  

I recently read an article in the Star Tribune about a new executive training program that uses seeing eye dogs to help managers improve teamwork and communication skills, builds trust, and problem solves at work.  The company Leader Dogs for the Blind, located in Rochester Hills, Michigan started its executive training program five years ago.  It has worked with Purina and Mitsubishi Motors.

The training involves the manager putting on a blindfold and then using precise commands to communicate with the seeing eye dog.  The manager must trust the dog to lead the way.  Most managers want to be in charge, but through the exercise they learn how to give and take.  The executive training courses may involve blindfold walks, white-cane walks and team-building activities with the use of a clicker.  The participants learn how to give and receive instructions through cues.  In the business world this translates into helping different departments communicate better with each other.

If you are a business looking for a unique and innovative way to train your management team, you might want to check out this program.    

Effective January 1, 2019, the Minnesota Legislature has added a work-related injury presumption to the workers’ compensation statute for certain types of public employees who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   The positions for which the PTSD presumption applies include: licensed police officer/deputy/Minnesota State Patrol, firefighter, paramedic, emergency medical technician, public safety dispatcher, corrections officer, and a licensed nurse who provides emergency medical services outside of a medical facility.  For the presumption to apply the employee: a) must be on active duty, b) cannot have been previously diagnosed with PTSD, and c) must work in one of the designated jobs.

The new law is only applicable to injuries claimed on or after January 1, 2019.  Employers have the ability to rebut the presumption and challenge an employee’s claim to benefits.

The new law makes it clear a diagnosis of PTSD is not considered an occupational disease if it results from a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, promotion, termination, retirement, or similar action taken in good faith by the employer.     

In case, you aren’t aware, the Minnesota minimum wage was adjusted for inflation effective January 1, 2018.  The new large employer minimum wage is $9.65/hour, an increase of $0.15.  Small employer minimum wage went up $0.12 to $7.87/hour.  $7.87/hour is also the new 90-day training wage for employees under age 20 and youth wage for employees under the age of 18.  A “large employer” is defined as any enterprise with an annual gross revenue of $500,000 or more.  “Small employers” are defined as any enterprise with annual gross revenue of less than $500,000.

Minnesota’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, so it is important for employers to know that if they have employees who are covered by both federal and state law the employer is required to pay the higher state wage.  Employees must be paid the new minimum wage for all hours worked, whether they are employed part-time or full-time.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has helpful information to aid employers.

For small business owners, if your business was thriving and growing in 2017, it is important to check your annual gross revenue and see if your status as a “small employer” changed under the minimum wage laws.  If so, your employees may be entitled to a higher minimum wage.    

The Department of Labor (DOL) has been very aggressive in auditing employers over the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, instead of employees.  Properly classifying workers is important for employers to avoid hefty fines, additional taxes, interest, and additional wage and overtime obligations.

The old test focused on the employer’s control over the worker.  Since 2015, the DOL has applied an “economic realities test,” to determine whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer.  The test asks six questions to determine a worker’s proper employment status.  They are:

  1. Is the work to be performed integral to the operation of the business? If the work is integral to the business of the employer, the worker is economically dependent on the employer and therefore considered an employee.
  2. Does the worker’s managerial skills affect their opportunity for profit and loss? This is generally determined by whether or not the worker has the ability to make decisions and use their managerial skill and initiative to impact their profit and loss.
  3. How does the worker’s relative investments in facilities and equipment compare to the employer? Under this test the worker must make an investment and bear some risk of loss in order to be an independent contractor in business for themselves. Examples of investments might include the purchase of a specialized business vehicle, advertising for the business, rented office space for the business, etc.  The investment can’t be minor and needs to be compared to the employer’s investment.
  4. Does the work require special skills and initiative? To qualify as an independent contractor, the worker would need to exhibit independent business judgment. Business judgment must be used in some independent manner which demonstrates initiative.  These may include marketing the business, ordering supplies and equipment for the business etc.
  5. Is the work relationship indefinite? Indefiniteness in the working relationship makes it appear more likely the worker is an employee. Generally, an independent contractor relationship is evidenced by a contract for a limited period of time or a special project.
  6. What is the nature and degree of the employer’s control? Analysis of this factor takes into consideration who sets the amount of and hours of work, who determines how the work is performed, as well as whether the worker is free to work for others and/or hire helpers.

The DOL has specifically stated however, that the fact a worker has incorporated a business and/or is licensed by a state or local government has little bearing on determining the nature of the employment relationship.  Similarly, the mode or time of the payment to the worker is not determinative.

Since the DOL has declared most workers are employees under their broad definition, it is a good time for employers to review their independent contractors, to determine if they in fact are misclassified.  Getting it right will save a lot of time, effort, and money.

The trend is shifting back to employees wanting their own workspace.  This is a shift away from more open work areas with shared desks, community areas, and collaborative workspaces.  Research has shown workers now want their own personal workspace to allow for personal boundaries.

In my career I have worked in many types of office workspaces from a cubicle with high walls and some semblance of privacy, to an open workspace area where everyone could hear you when you were on the phone, and see the clutter on your desk.  My favorite has always been a private office with walls and a door.

For many businesses, workspace layout is a budgetary concern.  It definitely costs more to have individual offices versus shared offices or cubicles. However, employee efficiency may be a factor impacted by the workspace provided.  While an extrovert might have no problem working in an open space where others are constantly around, an introvert might be very uncomfortable in the same environment and not work up to their full potential.  Writer Diane Stafford suggests people who are job hunting should inquire about office layout and desk assignment practices, when making job decisions on where they want to work. 

I understand an open workspace concept was originally thought to foster creativity and the free flow of information. However, those are not the only factors for employers to consider in workspace design.   It is important to also consider the type of work being performed, the personality types of employees, and how to get the best work performance from employees.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about a new workplace benefit – student loan debt relief.  Now, it seems employers are again thinking outside the box with respect to employee benefits.  The latest workplace benefits employers are offering include onsite meditation, yoga and other programs that help workers de-stress.  Other unique benefits are cooking classes, standing desks, bringing a pet to work, and free snacks or meals.  All these benefits are in addition to the more traditional benefits of medical and dental insurance, paid vacation, sick time, and retirement accounts.

A recent news article discussed a research study conducted by which found 57% of people said benefits and perks were among their top considerations when accepting a job.  Also, four out of five employees indicated they would like additional benefits over a pay raise.

These new and unique job perks are structured to help employees with work/life balance.  A challenge for employers is finding benefits their employees are interested in.  Older workers or working parents are going to be interested in different benefits than  younger millennials.  As long as employers keep all employees in mind when deciding what benefits to offer, I think they will definitely increase employee job satisfaction.

Last month, Arbitrator Stephen Befort denied the grievance of a Faribault County deputy who claimed the County did not have just cause to terminate his employment.  Deputy Dulac was terminated by the Faribault County Sheriff’s office for misconduct surrounding two different issues.  The first issue involved his off-duty conduct at a bar where he failed to secure evidence of criminal behavior.  The second issue involved him repeatedly pointing his loaded service weapon at other deputies as gunplay.

Arbitrator Befort found the incident at the bar where Deputy Dulac failed to secure custody of some Vicodin pills as evidence of possible criminal behavior warranted discipline but was not substantial enough to warrant discharge.  Arbitrator Befort, then turned his analysis to the second issue involving the pointing of his loaded service weapon at fellow employees.

This is not the first time, Arbitrator Befort has heard a case about gunplay in the workplace.  In 2005, Arbitrator Befort reduced a termination to a 30-day suspension for a deputy in Washington County who was accused of inappropriately pointing his gun at coworkers.  Arbitrator Befort stated in his award, the difference between the Washington County case and the current case was in Washington County there was evidence the supervisors were aware of the conduct, and never told the deputy to stop the behavior.  Additionally, in Washington County there was evidence of a culture of gunplay in the department.  Neither of these factors were present in the Faribault County case.

Arbitrator Befort agreed that Deputy Dulac’s actions of pointing a loaded gun at fellow employees was serious misconduct.  Deputy Dulac admitted he had done this on multiple occasions over the years.  The evidence showed none of the supervisors at the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office were aware of his actions.  During the course of the arbitration hearing, Deputy Dulac testified that two other deputies had pointed their weapons at Deputy Dulac many years before.  The County immediately began an investigation into Deputy Dulac’s claims, and the arbitration hearing was put on hold.  The subsequent investigation concluded that Deputy Dulac’s claims were unfounded.  All eight deputies who were interviewed during the investigation indicated they never observed another deputy, except Deputy Dulac, point a weapon at a colleague.

While most workplaces may not have guns, there may be other dangerous horseplay happening at work.  Arbitrators are not inclined to overlook dangerous working conditions.


The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed two unemployment law judges’ decisions to deny unemployment compensation to individuals terminated for clear policy violations.

In Nolan v. Great River Federal Credit Union, Ms. Nolan was terminated for violating the credit union’s policies which prohibit employees from performing transactions concerning family members’ accounts.  Ms. Nolan testified at the unemployment hearing, her mother called her at work and asked about transferring money from her account.  Ms. Nolan asked another teller to assist in transferring the money, but was advised a hold was on her mother’s account and a transfer couldn’t occur.  Ms. Nolan advised her mother of this.  Ms. Nolan then contacted a collections representative to discuss the hold and electronically accessed her mother’s account information.  Ms. Nolan acknowledged she was familiar with the credit union’s policies indicating, “we are not supposed to help family members in anyway” and are prohibited from doing anything regarding a relative’s account.  The Court of Appeals has stated, “As a general rule, refusing to abide by an employer’s reasonable policies and requests amounts to disqualifying misconduct.”  In this case, Ms. Nolan’s testimony established she violated the policies when she engaged the teller and collections representative on her mother’s behalf.  This knowing disregard for the reasonable policies constitutes employment misconduct and benefits are denied.

In Baker v. Minn. State Supreme Court, Ms. Baker worked as an assistant appellate clerk for the Minnesota Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.  She was hired by the Minnesota Judicial Branch in 1985.  In 1998, the Minnesota Judicial Branch enacted Policy 317 governing the use of internet and technology by employees.  Inappropriate use was defined as “…(1) wagering, betting, selling, (2) commercial activities, e.g. personal for-profit business activities,….”  Employees may access all policies on the employee intranet site, and they also receive e-mail notifications when policies are updated.

In 2014, Ms. Baker’s supervisor, Ms. O’Neill, became concerned with Ms. Baker’s productivity.  Ms. O’Neill has previously seen Ms. Baker using the internet when she was to be working and had warned Ms. Baker about excessive internet use.  Ms. O’Neill then asked the human resources department and IT division to review Ms. Baker’s internet use.  It was discovered Ms. Baker had used the internet during work to access numerous non-work related websites like eBay, Amazon, and PayPal.  Ms. Baker was then discharged for violation of the internet and technology use policy.

Ms. Baker argued she did not commit employment misconduct because she did not know of Policy 317.  During the hearing before the ULJ, Ms. Baker admitted to visiting websites for personal use.  Ms. Baker also acknowledged “I’m sure I probably have used it (intranet site) but I don’t know exactly what is on there or why I went to it.”  The ULJ denied unemployment compensation finding Ms. Baker used the Judicial Branch’s telecommunication system to engage in selling activity and personal business, and spent a significant amount of time on personal websites outside of authorized break times.  The Court of Appeals stated, misconduct need not be deliberate and that Ms. Baker’s argument she did not know of Policy 317 was unpersuasive given she had received approximately ten verbal warnings about excessive internet use.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of unemployment benefits.

A couple of points to consider:

1)      Employers need to have clear policies;

2)      Employees need to know about the policies; and

3)      It is a good idea to be able to prove the employees have access to the policies or have received copies of the policies.