Knowing and protecting your employment rights is important for all Missouri and Kansas City workers. These rights are enshrined in law and help ensure fair treatment, a safe working environment, and protection from unlawful discrimination and retaliation. If you believe your rights have been violated, though, how do you protect them? An employment lawyer is your first step.

Ask an Employment Lawyer: How to Protect Your Employment Rights in Kansas City

Missouri is an “at-will” employment state, meaning either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal. This gives employers wide latitude to hire and fire employees, but there are very specific exceptions.

Employers cannot base their decisions on discriminatory factors. Furthermore, employment contracts, written or verbal, and company policies can create additional rights for employees. Terminations that are in violation of a contract or in retaliation for legal activities (like whistleblowing) are illegal. Employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated have the right to pursue legal action.

Know Your Federal Employment Rights

Missouri is subject to federal employment laws just like any state, and these laws provide a foundational layer of employee protection. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, recordkeeping requirements, and child labor standards. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for a safe and healthful workplace.

Know Your Missouri State Rights

Missouri has its own set of employment laws that complement federal regulations and even expand them in some areas. The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age, and familial status. Furthermore, the state’s minimum wage of $12.30 as of Jan 1, 2024 is higher than the federal minimum wage of just $7.25, and employers in Missouri must pay the higher wage.

Missouri also has regulations regarding meal and rest breaks, vacations and time off, and many other areas that it’s worth learning about in detail. A qualified Kansas City employment lawyer will be familiar with all the laws of Missouri and able to help you understand if your federal or state rights are being violated.

Know Your Specific Rights

Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace Are Always Illegal

Both Missouri law and federal statutes like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect employees from discrimination based on specific protected characteristics. This includes protection from sexual harassment, which can manifest as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Employees facing such issues have the right to file a complaint with their employer, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Your lawyer can help you learn where is best for you to file.

Wage and Hour Laws

Both federal and Missouri state laws outline regulations regarding minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. Employers are required to pay the higher of the state or federal minimum wage. In cases of unpaid wages or overtime, employees can file a claim with the Missouri Department of Labor or the U.S. Department of Labor.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes your employer must pay you for the number of hours you actually work. In addition, Missouri law requires certain things regarding compensation for travel time and also requires employers to pay one and a half times the normal rate of pay for any work over 40 hours in a week. Both state and federal law forbid employers to ask you to waive your right to overtime pay, and if your employer has asked you to do so, you should file a complaint right away.

Leave and Absences

The FMLA, a federal law, provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain family and medical reasons, such as the birth of a child or a serious health condition. Missouri does not have a state-specific family leave law, so the provisions of the FMLA are particularly significant. Additionally, employees who serve in the military are protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which ensures their job security during and after military service.

Health and Safety Regulations in the Workplace

Under OSHA, employers are required to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. This includes providing proper safety training and equipment as well as following specific industry safety standards. Missouri does not have a state-specific occupational safety and health plan; therefore, OSHA regulations are the primary source of workplace safety standards in the state.

Disability and Accommodation Rights

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Missouri Human Rights Act, employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. This includes modifications or adjustments to the job or work environment that enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to perform their job duties.

Employers are required to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine appropriate accommodations, unless that accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer.

Retaliation and Whistleblower Protections

Employees are protected from retaliation for engaging in protected activities, such as filing a discrimination claim or participating in an investigation. Whistleblower laws also protect employees who report illegal activities or violations of regulations. The Missouri Whistleblower’s Protection Act specifically protects those who report unlawful acts of their employers or who refuse to carry out illegal directives.

Employment Contracts and Non-Compete Agreements

While Missouri is an at-will employment state, contracts and non-compete agreements can change this. These contracts may define terms of employment, severance, and restrictions post-employment, and the Missouri courts usually enforce these agreements if they are reasonable in scope and duration and protect a legitimate business interest. If you have a contract that lays out specific reasons you can and cannot be fired, and if your employer violates the contract, you may have a case against them even under at-will state employment law.

Know How to Handle a Violation of Your Rights

Most employers have internal grievance procedures that employees should follow, and that is usually your first step (unless doing so would be unsafe). If a resolution is not reached, you will then want to look to external avenues, such as filing a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, the EEOC, or the Department of Labor, depending on the nature of the dispute. Based on what happens with that complaint, you may then go on to file a lawsuit.

Workplace issues are both legally and personally complex, and this is just an overview of your rights. If you want to learn more, need to file a complaint, or are unsure whether your rights have been violated, the best step is to consult with an experienced employment law attorney right away. Contact us today at Holman Schiavone, LLC. We’ll help you ​understand your situation and take the next best steps to protect your rights.