Someone once said life is not fair. This is an example of that statement. You are being blamed for something someone else did. You want to see your personnel file and make sure there is nothing in there about you being found stealing. You want to make sure you can file for unemployment. You want them to know that if there is anything in your file about the stealing or if they fight the unemployment by accusing you of theft you will sue them for wrongful termination.
The response given is not intended to create, nor does it create an ongoing duty to respond to questions. The response does not form an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response given is based upon the limited facts provided by the person asking the question. To the extent additional or different facts exist, the response might possibly change. Attorney is licensed to practice law only in the State of California. Responses are based solely on California law unless stated otherwise.
Under the Minnesota Personnel Records Act, you can obtain a copy of your personnel file by requesting it in writing. You should do so in order to determine if your personnel file contains any reference to the incident involving the missing money.
Under Minnesota law, employees can also request in writing that the employer provide the "truthful reason for termination" in writing. In your case, I think the time period has passed for making such a request, but it might have given you some peace of mind to know the basis for your termination. If the employer did not accuse you of stealing in the "truthful reason" letter, it also may have helped you obtain unemployment insurance benefits or find another job.
Your primary concern may be the impact of the termination on your reputation and ability to find another job. Under the law of defamation in Minnesota, if an employer notifies an employee that they are being terminated for misconduct, and the accusations are false, this might support a claim for defamation. Normally, defamation does not occur unless the defendant (employer) makes the false statement to a third party (someone other than you). But in the employment context, the Minnesota courts have adopted the "compelled self-publication" rule. Essentially, this means that an employee could sue for defamation if the employer has made the defamatory statement to the employee (but not a third party) under circumstances where it was reasonable to expect that the employee would be compelled to repeat the statement to others (e.g., prospective employers). Thus, if the employer did make false accusations of theft, you might have a possible defamation claim. Winning such a claim can be difficult, however, because employers under Minnesota law generally have a "qualified privilege" to avoid defamation liability based on statements about employees unless the statement was made with "actual malice."
In order to minimize the risk that your former employer may bad-mouth you, it may be wise to hire an attorney to write a short letter to the company clearly stating that you are innocent, notifying the employer of its potential defamation liability, and advising the employer that false accusations of theft will likely damage your reputation and make it difficult for you to find another job. Once the employer has received this letter, it will be much easier to prove "actual malice" if the company later tells a future employer or third party that you stole money.
If the former employer does contest your claim for unemployment insurance benefits, under Minnesota law you also have the right to be represented by an attorney.
Our law firm offers a free 30-minute initial consultation if you would like to discuss it further.
Craig W. Trepanier, Esq.
Minnesota Employment Law Attorney
Trepanier & MacGillis P.A.