What is At-Will Employment?
Like most states in America, Missouri is an “at-will” employment state. At-will means that an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason unless there is a written employment contract with definitive terms for termination. Without a written employment contract with these terms, Missouri employees can be terminated for any reason or no reason at all. Similarly, employees can terminate their employment with an employer at any time. Many employees give a two-week notice out of courtesy, but it is not required in an at-will state.
While there are exceptions to at-will employment, the doctrine is, for the most part, binding for all employers at all levels. At-will employment was created to uphold the rights of employees to ensure they could exit a job position at any time. Similarly, it allows employers to terminate employees not performing their job duties.
Because Missouri is an at-will state, it can be challenging to determine whether you can sue your employer for wrongful termination or other discriminatory actions. As with many legal matters, consulting an experienced employment law lawyer is the best way to plan your legal strategy. If you want more information about Missouri’s at-will doctrine, call our office today at 314-528-9661.
What Are the Exceptions to Missouri’s At-Will Employment Doctrine?
The at-will doctrine is broad, but there are certain exceptions to its rules. For instance, employers cannot terminate employees based on a protected class, like race, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Terminations based on these factors are labeled as discrimination and are illegal under state and federal law.
Similarly, the Missouri Supreme Court created a “public policy” exception to protect employees from wrongful termination. This exception states that employees cannot be terminated for refusing to violate the law or clear mandates of public policy. Employees also cannot be terminated for reporting wrongdoing or law violations to public officials. These exceptions were created to discourage retaliation and to keep employers from threatening employees with termination if they refuse to break the law. If an employee is terminated for either of these reasons, they have the right to sue their employer for wrongful termination.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Because Missouri is an at-will state, many employees wonder if they can claim wrongful termination at any point. Wrongful termination is being unlawfully terminated for discriminatory reasons or retaliation. Sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act are other reasons an employee could claim wrongful termination.
In an at-will state, wrongful termination is still illegal under both state and federal law. This means that if you are terminated for discriminatory reasons, you could potentially file a lawsuit against your employer. In a wrongful termination lawsuit, you can sue for damages like lost wages and emotional suffering.
When Must Terminated Employees Recieve Final Payments?
According to Missouri’s at-will doctrine, terminated employees must receive all final payments the day they are terminated. If the payment is not made on that day, an employee can request their payments in writing. The employer then has seven days to give the employee their final wages from that date. If the employer fails to do so, the wages continue to accrue until the employee is paid or for 60 days, whichever comes first.
Unfortunately, unused vacation days are not considered wages. Employers are under no obligation to pay employees out for their vacation days or PTO days unless it is specified within the company agreement or employment contract.
Can an Employee Sue Their Former Employer?
Even though Missouri is an at-will state, employees can still potentially sue their former employers if they are wrongfully terminated. Wrongful termination is illegal under state and federal law and can lead to large settlements for lost wages, health insurance, and emotional damages. As with most legal matters, the best way to determine if you can sue your former employer is to consult with a team of employment law lawyers.
Should I Contact an Employment Law Lawyer?
Missouri’s at-will doctrine impacts the rights of all workers in the state. If you believe your rights have been violated and want to seek compensation or take other legal action, consulting an employment law lawyer is the first step. Our team at Riggan Law Firm, LLC will examine your case to determine if you have a potential lawsuit to hold your former employer accountable. To learn more, call our office today at 314-528-9661.