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Hellmuth & Johnson

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No insurance, no job for school plumber

The loss of a driver’s license due to driving offenses can often lead to loss of a job as well as denial of unemployment compensation benefits. In a number of cases, the Minnesota Courts have ruled it permissible to discharge an employee who must use a company vehicle, if the employee loses his license and they have consistently upheld denial of unemployment benefits, too.  

But a few new twists on these themes were unveiled recently by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which upheld the discharge of a Burnsville school district employee who was an honorably discharged military veteran, after multiple driving infractions even though he still maintained his driver’s license in Maire v Ind. Sch. Dist. #191, (Burnsville), 2013 WL 1705043 (Minn. App. 2013) (unpublished).

The case arose when the plumber, who used school district vehicles to travel to do maintenance work, was charged with a DWI and an open bottle violation; his third alcohol-related driving incident. He retained his license while the legal proceedings were pending, but the school district fired him because its insurance carrier refused to cover him while driving school district vehicles. As an honorably discharged veteran, he challenged the discharge under the Veterans Preference Act, a state law that bans firing honorably discharged vets except for “incompetence or misconduct.”

A veteran preference hearing resulted in a ruling that he should be reinstated to his job, and a Dakota County District Court judge agreed. But the appellate court overturned that determination in an appeal by the school district. It ruled that the insurer’s refusal to cover the employee due to his driving record constituted “substantial evidence” in support of the decision to discharge him. As a result, he lost his job even though he retained his driver’s license at that time.

The case highlights several points.

  • Employees who are required to drive at work may lose their jobs if they lose their driver’s license;
  • Employers need not accommodate employees with new driving restrictions unless they wish to do so, as some do;
  • Insurance carriers may play a big role in deciding to cover employees with work-related driving offenses.