If you’ve been the victim of wrongful termination in Jackson County, Missouri, you’re likely wondering what your next move should be. You might be dazed by the situation you just endured and fearful you won’t have the money necessary to pay your bills. Into this mix comes questions about unemployment benefits, which we can answer to help guide you down the right path.
Can I Collect Unemployment During a Wrongful Termination Claim?
Like many states, Missouri follows an at-will employment tenet – meaning an employee can be terminated without notice for any or no reason. This gives employers great discretion over the hiring and firing of staff, and proving wrongful dismissal in these situations can be a challenge. You should not, however, let at-will employment deter you from applying for unemployment benefits or, if certain conditions exist, filing a claim against your employer.
What you should be aware of is that Missouri state laws strictly govern unemployment benefits eligibility. The Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations states a person may be eligible for benefits if they lost their job through no fault of their own or quit for acceptable reasons relative to the employer or work. But exceptions to rules almost always exist, and it is for this reason that your circumstances should be carefully reviewed by an attorney.
Limitations of Jackson County, Missouri’s At-Will Employment Laws
For a dismissal to meet the definition of wrongful discharge, it must be illegal in the eyes of the law. Examples of an employer acting illegally include:
- Violating an employment agreement (breach of contract)
- Violating federal or state laws (discrimination)
- Retaliating against an employee for reporting illegal activities
Breach of Contract
Once you have an employment contract with a business in Jackson County, Missouri, you are protected from being fired without good cause. Contracts in some states can be established with verbiage in an employee handbook, a verbal commitment, or mere implication. But in Missouri, that contract must be signed, and once it is, it’s legally binding. An employment contract routinely states that:
- The employee will be employed for a specific period of time
- The employee will be paid a certain salary and/or receive certain benefits
- The employee will be allowed the opportunity to correct performance deficiencies before the contract is terminated
If the business breached this contract by terminating you outside of the specified terms, you may have a wrongful termination case. The laws defining employment in Missouri are often difficult to understand, but partnering with a well-qualified attorney can help you reach a favorable outcome in your contract dispute. This is why you should contact a law firm as soon as possible to discuss your options.
No matter what state you live in, an employer does not have the right to discriminate against employees based on characteristics protected by U.S. federal law. These include your citizenship status, disabilities, age, religion, sex, or race. The only exception is if your employer maintains fewer than 15 employees. You may then lack legal protection from discrimination, but even this scenario has exceptions.
To illustrate, if you are over the age of 40 and under the age of 70 – and your employer keeps at least 20 employees – you may be federally protected from age discrimination. You’re also legally protected from discrimination based on citizenship status if your employer keeps at least four employees. And Missouri law specifically protects against age and citizenship discrimination in workplaces with at least six employees.
An employer cannot legally dismiss you for asserting rights that are protected by law. Examples of these rights include:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Speaking to human resources about a discrimination issue
- Cooperating with a complaint made to human resources
If a business oversteps its bounds and terminates your employment for any of the reasons listed above, you can file a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. You should also contact a lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri, to fight for your rights.
Complaints about Hours and Wages
The 2021 minimum wage in Missouri is $10.30, and employees who work more than 40 hours per week are entitled to overtime pay. Although breaks are not mandated by the state, if your employer does provide for them and they are 20 minutes or less, you are entitled to be paid for that time.
You also have the right to discuss with a manager or human resources professional if you’re not paid appropriately. An employer who fires you for exercising this right may be in violation of employment laws – meaning you can pursue a wrongful termination claim.
Time Off of Work
Federal and Missouri state laws offer protection to employees who take time away from work for specific reasons, including to:
- Serve jury duty
- Serve in the military
- Handle medical issues
To be more specific, federal law safeguards your job for five years if you are a military member. State law likewise secures your position if you serve in the state-organized militia. And you do not have to use sick or vacation time to participate in jury duty.
Family Medical Leave Act
Last but not least, federal law protects your job for family and medical leave purposes in accordance with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Any employer with at least 50 staff members must abide by the FMLA.
The guidelines set forth allow you to take up to 12 weeks unpaid for any serious medical issue you or a family member must manage. Those 12 weeks can also be taken for the birth of a child and/or handle the affairs of a family member serving in the military.
Understanding Case Specifics
A wrongful dismissal lawsuit or settlement may allow you to recover compensatory damages, back pay, and other expenses. You may even be entitled to get your job back.
A settlement between the employee and employer is often the best option because wrongful dismissal claims are unpredictable and can be tough to prove. Employers often present evidence that the firing was warranted by factors like a violation of company policy or poor work performance. On the flip side, damaging information about the employer could be revealed in a trial, thus leading to a public relations catastrophe.
What About Value?
The value of a wrongful dismissal claim depends on factors that vary significantly from case to case. The total wages lost from the date of termination to the present must be considered, as well as the loss of benefits.
To illustrate, if a fired employee is forced to pay for health insurance out of their own pocket, the employer may be responsible for reimbursing these expenses. Additionally, if an employee hasn’t been able to find new employment since the dismissal, future wage loss may also be factored in.
Employees who have experienced depression, anxiety, or other emotional suffering because of their termination may seek damages for their distress. This can be especially significant in cases where the actions were particularly egregious, such as in claims of ongoing discrimination or harassment.
Wrongful dismissal can take place in many different forms, and although it can be a challenge to prove, pursuing your claim is well worth the time and effort. You may be entitled to financial relief that can ease your burdens and provide peace of mind. We represent individuals just like you who are in vulnerable situations and don’t know where to turn – and we do so with compassion. Schedule your free consultation today by contacting Holman Schiavone, LLC.