In Jackson County, Missouri, employment is generally considered “at-will,” meaning employers have broad discretion to terminate employees without having to provide a justification. However, this at-will doctrine has limitations. Several specific circumstances may render a termination illegal and give you the right to bring a wrongful termination claim. Talk with a wrongful termination lawyer right away if any of the following have happened to you.
8 Examples of Wrongful Termination
In Missouri, it is illegal to terminate an employee due to their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (if over 40), disability, or genetic information. For instance, if an employee is fired solely because they are from a certain ethnic background, this would constitute wrongful termination. A specific example could be a situation where an employee, perhaps the only one of a certain race in the office, is laid off without any valid reason or performance-related issues, especially if other employees with lower performance ratings are retained.
Another example would be firing a 45-year-old solely because of their age, which might happen if an employer believes a younger person might do the job faster and cheaper than a more experienced person.
Retaliation for Exercising Legal Rights
Employees are protected under various laws when they exercise their legal rights. If an employee is terminated for filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting a safety violation, or participating in an investigation or lawsuit against their employer, it can be considered wrongful termination.
For example, an employee who reports safety hazards in the workplace and is subsequently fired may have a valid wrongful termination claim. This protection also extends to whistleblowers who expose illegal activities within their organization. Even if an investigation reveals that no illegal activities were going on, so long as the employee made the report in good faith, they cannot be fired for doing so.
In Violation of Employment Contracts
If an employee has a written, oral, or implied contract that stipulates the conditions under which they can be fired, and the employer does not keep to these conditions in firing that employee, this can lead to a wrongful termination claim. There are two primary scenarios where a breach of contract might be relevant:
1. Express Written Contracts
If you have a formal written employment contract stipulating specific termination provisions, such as requiring cause for dismissal or outlining a defined severance package or timeframe for notification, the employer must abide by these terms.
For example, imagine a contract guaranteeing employment for two years or requiring written notice and severance pay before termination. If the employer terminates you after eight months, or without giving you a written notice, you may have a valid claim for breach of contract.
2. Implied Contracts
Even in the absence of a formal written agreement, certain employer actions or company policies can establish an implied contract. If there are consistent practices within the company or verbal assurances were given, these create a reasonable expectation of continued employment under specific conditions.
Here’s an example: If your employer consistently promotes employees based on seniority, and you’ve been meeting or exceeding performance expectations for years, an implied contract of advancement based on seniority could be argued. If the company claims downsizing and fires you while promoting a junior employee with less experience without explanation, this could potentially be considered a breach of the implied contractual obligation of seniority-based advancement.
It’s important to note that proving an implied contract can be very challenging; it’s certainly more difficult to prove than demonstrating a breach of a written agreement. Consulting with a wrongful termination lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri will be helpful, as your lawyer can assess the strength of your claim and determine the best course of action.
As a Form of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue, and termination as a part of this harassment can be grounds for a wrongful termination suit. If an employee is fired for refusing sexual advances from a superior or for reporting such behavior, this is a clear violation of their rights.
Termination for Taking Legally Protected Leave
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees are entitled to take leave for specific family and medical reasons. If an employee is fired for taking FMLA leave, this would be considered wrongful termination. For example, an employee who takes leave for a serious health condition and is then terminated upon their return to work might very well be a victim of wrongful termination.
Dismissal Against Public Policy
One well-established example of a public policy violation is firing an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activity. If your employer pressures you to commit a crime or violate safety regulations, and you refuse, they cannot legally terminate you for that refusal. Public policy dictates that upholding the law and protecting safety outweighs an employer’s interests.
Another example involves situations where an employee is terminated for fulfilling a public duty, like jury duty, reporting child abuse or neglect, or serving in the military reserves. These actions benefit society as a whole, and employers cannot penalize employees for fulfilling such obligations. It is important to note that not every instance of employer conduct that might seem unfair rises to the level of a public policy violation. The specific circumstances of each case, the nature of the employee’s actions, and the specific public policy involved will all be weighed in determining whether there was a wrongful termination.
Pregnancy or Related Conditions
Pregnancy discrimination is another form of wrongful termination. It is unlawful to terminate an employee due to pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition. For example, if an employee is let go because they are pregnant or need unexpected time off for a pregnancy-related condition, this would be a violation of their rights. This also includes situations where an employer may cite performance issues as a pretext for termination when the real reason is the employee’s pregnancy.
Termination for Participating in Union Activities
As discussed earlier, Missouri is a “right-to-work” state, meaning employees are not obligated to join a union or participate in union activities; but employers also cannot retaliate against employees who choose to exercise their rights under federal labor laws. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects a wide range of union activities, including:
- Organizing a union or joining an existing one
- Attending union meetings
- Distributing union literature
- Wearing union pins or buttons
- Participating in lawful strikes or pickets
- Bargaining collectively with the employer
It is illegal for an employer to fire, demote, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against an employee because of their union activity or even lack thereof.
Contact a Wrongful Termination Lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri
If you believe you’ve been terminated for discriminatory reasons, retaliation, violation of public policy, breach of contract, or any other reason listed above – or even if you’re not sure – don’t hesitate to seek legal counsel. Consulting with an experienced employment lawyer can help you understand your options, assess how strong your case really is, and determine the best course of action. Contact Holman Schiavone, LLC right away for a free consultation.