An at-will employment doctrine provides companies and their workers a considerable amount of freedom to determine how and when the employment will come to an end. Employers do not have to have a reason to dismiss their employees. In most cases, they do not even have to provide notice. This allows businesses more leeway in developing policies, procedures and contracts that are suitable to specific operational needs. As with any law, there are exceptions, and employers should be aware of these so they do not unwittingly create grounds for a lawsuit.
At-will Employment in Missouri
Missouri law includes an at-will employment statute that applies automatically unless otherwise stated. Although those who are subject to termination at will may not be guaranteed continuous employment, the at-will doctrine could be considered to have its own contractual structure. In essence, the employer and employee agree to the impermanence of the employment relationship rather than creating boundaries regarding discharge. To prevent the voiding of this contract, employers must be careful not to include statements that contradict the agreement and constitute a different type of contract.
Wrongful Termination in Missouri
There are factors that can lead to an illegal discharge of an employee in Missouri. If an employer violates one of these exceptions to the at-will employment rule, the former employee could have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Breach of Contract: A contract that expressly defines terms of employment is a legally binding document, so any statements regarding the duration of the work agreement must be followed. Collective bargaining agreements also typically define when an employer can terminate an employee.
A company’s policies and procedures may list grounds for dismissal without negating the at-will employment doctrine. This is because the employer has the right to modify those documents at any time.
Discrimination: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that protects employees from discrimination based on characteristics such as race, color, sex or national origin, which includes accent, birthplace and culture. This law applies to most public, private, government and educational employers with 15 or more employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission is the federal agency that enforces this law.
The Missouri Human Rights Act covers businesses not bound by federal anti-discrimination regulations by lowering the minimum number of employees to six. Characteristics protected from discrimination include national origin, sex, race, color, ancestry, religion and disability. In most cases, employees with human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome cannot be fired because of their disease. It is also illegal for an employer to fire employees who are between 40 and 69 years old because of their age.
Sexual preference is protected from discriminatory termination in Kansas City and some other municipalities in Missouri.
Retaliation: Terminating an employee for exercising his or her rights in the workplace may be considered retaliatory discharge. Activities protected from this type of punitive action include filing a discrimination complaint or workers’ compensation claim, or taking part in discrimination litigation.
Whistleblowers are employees who, in good faith, report that an employer has violated a law. For example, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established guidelines for workplace safety, and employees who report unsafe working conditions cannot be fired for that action. An employee who reports a violation of child labor laws or the minimum wage law is also protected from employer retaliation.
Public Policy: It is against the law for an employer to dismiss someone who refuses to commit a crime during the course of the job. Employees cannot be forced to violate statutes, policies or governmental regulations. However, for a claim to be valid, it must be evident that the refusal is in reference to an action that is explicitly prohibited by law. The employee must be able to prove that the refusal to break the law is directly related to the termination.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.