Minnesota Sports Scene Offers Lessons for Local Employers

The recent headlines regarding Minnesota professional sports are full of interesting guidance for human resource professionals.

Jimmy Butler Demands Trade From the Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves face the question of whether to comply with star player Jimmy Butler’s demand to be traded.  Until a decision is made, Butler is not practicing with the team.

This situation almost certainly is negatively affecting the team.  Butler’s desire to leave reportedly stems from his dislike for the team’s other top players (Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins), which obviously impedes the teamwork needed for success on the court.   Moreover, his absence strips the team of one of their top performers, and if he is traded, the Wolves will have to overcome the disruption caused by incorporating new players into the team’s style of play.

What can Minnesota employers do with employees publicly criticizing their co-workers and announcing their desire to leave the organization?  You could help them achieve their goals by terminating their employment.  Minnesota law in general does not prohibit termination of employees for negativity or for expressing a desire to leave.  Quite simply, you can tell them “You obviously aren’t happy here, so it is time for you to go.”

Of course there are some potential obstacles.  For example, where a collective bargaining agreement or individual employment contract limits the employer to termination only for cause, an employee’s dissatisfaction with their job may not rise to that level.  In such instances, the employer could still meet their burden by demonstrating the negative impact that the employee’s behavior has had on the work and/or their co-workers. This would be particularly effective if you had previously counseled the employee to refrain from such behavior during working time

Similarly, termination would not be a good option if the employee is expressing the intent to leave because of discrimination, harassment or some infringement on their protected rights or activity.  Perhaps, if the behavior is unduly disruptive, and you would terminate for similar behavior not related to protected activity, a termination might still be warranted.  Tread carefully in such instances, however, and get good legal counsel before you make the decision.

Everson Griffen Suspended By the Vikings For Violent Off-Duty Incident

In the days leading up to their next game, Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen was involved in a violent episode at a local hotel where allegedly threatened to “shoot someone” if he was not allowed into his room.  This followed several days, or even weeks, of troubling behavior on Griffen’s part.

This is not the first time that Griffen’s off-the-field conduct has created issues, and the Vikings appear to be aware that Griffen’s behavior may be related to mental health concerns.  This then raises issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its state law counterpart the Minnesota Human Rights Act because Griffen appears to have a medical condition that affects his ability to perform the essential function of his job – sacking quarterbacks.

In such matters, the ADA requires employers to consider whether and to what extent a reasonable accommodation might be afforded to permit the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Allowing Griffen to take time off and pursue medical help appears to be one such accommodation.

In addition, the ADA requires confidentiality, which the Vikings clearly have honored, as evidenced by their simple announcement that they are aware of the matter and “are currently focused on Everson’s well-being and providing the appropriate support for him and his family.”

While this matter relates to a public figure and some rather alarming behavior, it is still a good example for Minnesota employers on how to address employees with medical issues.  Get the information you need to make good decisions, conduct an interactive process to determine how to proceed and keep the matter from becoming too public.

Good job, Vikings!

Joe Mauer Plays Catcher For Old Time’s Sake

On the last day of the Twins season, and perhaps the last game of Joe Mauer’s famed career, the Twins allowed Mauer to don the catcher’s gear for one more pitch as a tribute to the many years he spent behind the plate.

The gesture was purely symbolic as the Twins apparently cleared it with the opposing team before the game and even made sure that whoever was batting at the time would not swing at the pitch.  All of this was to protect Mauer, whose concussions while playing catcher caused him to switch to playing first base.

All of this made for great spectacle on the ball field but Minnesota employers should avoid similar temptations of allowing employees to work beyond their medical restrictions.  Placing employees at risk of re-injury poses problems for workers compensation claims and could expose employers to claims of discrimination or retaliation under the ADA if employees feel that they are being placed at risk as some sort of punishment for seeking accommodation.

This might be a bit far-fetched but if you have been in the human resources field for a while, nothing surprises you.

Bottom Line

Who knew you could learn so much from reading the sports pages?