If you were fired without cause in MIssouri, you may be able to file a legal claim. Employment lawyers can determine if you have a case and then fight for the compensation you deserve. This is a complex process, however, and demands the skills of an experienced team. State employment laws make it challenging to bring a case against an employer unless specific criteria are met.
Did You Lose Your Job Unfairly? Contact Missouri’s Best Employment Lawyers Today
Missouri is known as an at-will employment state, meaning employers can terminate employees for nearly any reason or no reason at all. Likewise, employees can walk away from jobs as they choose.
The nature of the at-will doctrine does still prevent employees from wrongful termination claims simply because they lost their jobs. Evidence must be presented to prove the firing violated a law, however. If you can successfully prove this in your claim, you may be able to recover damages for mental and emotional distress, lost wages, and punitive damages.
Protection for Certain Activities
Important exceptions do exist to the at-will employment tenet. One such exception prevents employers from discharging employees if it violates public policy. To illustrate, an employer cannot fire you for:
- Blowing the whistle on illegal activity
- Refusing to engage in an illegal activity
- Exercising your workers’ compensation rights
Let’s say a bank employee was asked to submit misleading documents to bank regulators, a nurse was told to alter a patient’s progress notes, or a corporate accountant received instructions to violate SEC regulations. Refusing to participate in such illegal activities and/or bringing them to the attention of others are not sufficient reasons to lose your job. If you are terminated for doing the right thing, you may sue for wrongful discharge.
Across the United States, an employer cannot terminate an employee for discriminatory reasons. These are based on specific characteristics protected by federal law and include:
- Citizenship status
Understand Your Rights
Although the state in which you reside doesn’t matter, the number of employees at your workplace does. If your employer maintains fewer than 15 employees, you may lack legal protection from discrimination. Some exceptions, however, are in place to safeguard your rights.
Federal law prohibits discrimination against those over the age of 40 and under the age of 70 if your employer keeps at least 20 employees. Legal protection is also in place to prevent discrimination based on citizenship in a workplace with at least four employees. And laws in the Show Me State prevent discrimination in a workplace with at least six employees.
Employers cannot fire you in retaliation for asserting certain rights protected by the law. For instance, you are protected in making a complaint to the human resources department regarding discrimination. Likewise, you can also cooperate with the investigation of such a complaint. You are also protected in filing a workers’ compensation claim for an injury sustained while on the job.
If you are terminated for confronting discrimination or moving forward with a workplace injury claim, it’s crucial you speak to employment lawyers as soon as possible. Right now, the series of events leading to your termination are fresh in your mind, meaning you can make an accurate statement to support your legal claim. If you wait to speak to an attorney, however, you may forget crucial components and inadvertently compromise your case.
Breach of Contract
Some states allow a contract to be implied and/or verbally agreed to. Some even consider statements within an employee handbook to constitute a contract. Missouri, however, requires employee contracts to be explicitly written and signed for the employment standards to alter from at-will.
Once this contract is in place, your employer can only fire you with just cause. If sufficient reason is not provided, you may have a wrongful termination suit arising from breach of contract.
Concerns About Wages and Hours
The state minimum wage currently sits at $9.45 an hour, and any employee who works more than 40 hours per week must be paid overtime. While the state does not demand employers provide for a lunch hour, any breaks that are 20 minutes or less must be paid. The provision of a lunch period or other pauses is made at the employer’s discretion and can be addressed in an employment policy or contract.
Having said that, you are entitled to make complaints about not being paid appropriately. This means your employer cannot rightfully terminate you for questioning and/or complaining about pay discrepancies. If you are terminated for these reasons, you may have a wrongful termination claim.
Taking Time Away from Work
Federal and state laws are in place to protect your job when you take time off for certain reasons, including:
- Tending to medical concerns
- Caring for family matters
- Performing jury duty
- Serving in the military
These protections, however, have limitations. To illustrate, federal law safeguards your job for five years when you must provide military service. And for voting purposes, you must actually vote in order to receive pay. You are not entitled to time off if the polls are open for at least three hours when you are not required to work.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects your job if you work in a place with at least 50 employees. With this requisite met, you are entitled to take up to 12 weeks off (without pay) for:
- The birth of a child
- Practical issues pertaining to the military service or injury of a family member
- A serious medical issue for your or a family member
The 12 weeks granted under the FMLA can be taken every year. Employees who take FMLA leave must be given their same position once the leave is complete.
Other Causes of Wrongful Termination
You may have a wrongful termination claim if you report workplace safety violations and are then fired. This same type of claim may be pursued if you’re fired for tobacco use while away from work and not on the clock.
If you are discharged from work, you are owed all wages due at the time of dismissal. If you are not paid at the time of your termination, you should send a letter by certified mail return receipt requested to demand payment of all wages. Your employer has seven days to respond, and if wages are not paid within that time, your employer becomes liable for paying additional wages to you for up to 60 days until you’re paid in full.
If the total amount of back wages is less than $5,000, you can file legal action in small claims court. Amounts in excess of $5,000 need to be pursued in a private right of action in circuit court. Speaking to a lawyer about non-payment of wages before you take legal action is a great idea; an attorney can guide you through the process and ensure your paperwork is properly completed.
When it comes to wrongful termination, employment lawyers can assess the strength of your case and sort through the many relevant facts. An attorney can also identify any other legal claim you may have. With significant experience in employment law, we can walk you through your options. We’re here to help you negotiate a severance package, get your job back, or take your employer to court. Contact Holman Schiavone, LLC, today for your free consultation.