Like most other jurisdictions, the Show Me State is an at-will state. Employers can fire employees at any time for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. However, they cannot fire a worker for an illegal reason. And, in June 2020, the Supreme Court significantly expanded the law in this area. More on that below.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has primary jurisdiction over wrongful termination cases. However, this small, underfunded, politically-dominated agency only accepts a few cases. If the EEOC refuses to take your case, that does not mean your claim is weak. That simply means you are free to work with a Kansas City employment lawyer.
Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and subsequent state and federal laws, it is illegal to terminate workers who are in protected classes. This list is so long that almost every worker in Kansas City is probably in at least one protected class. This list includes:
- Age (if over 40),
- National origin,
- Religion, and
- Sexual orientation.
As mentioned, in June 2020, the Supreme Court expanded the sexual orientation category. This class now includes all individuals on the LGBTQ spectrum.
To establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff need only establish membership in a protected class. Special rules apply in some cases. Religion is a good example. The individual’s beliefs need not be widely held or generally accepted. They must only be individually sincere.
Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, unless the employer successfully rebuts it, the employer is liable for damages.
Employers cannot fire people for being in a protected class, and they cannot fire them for participating in a protected activity. Some examples include:
- Labor Organization: The law broadly defines this category to include things like discussing pay, benefits, or work conditions with fellow employees. Generally, employees can use a company email account to engage in this protected activity.
- Political Activity: Since they are essentially government entities, public employers cannot restrict freedom of expression, including political expression. They can impose reasonable time, place, and manner limits. Private employers are under no such constraints. Political expression is not a protected activity in these contexts.
- Whistleblowing: Generally, employees have more than an ability to speak out about wrongdoing. In many cases, they have a legal or ethical responsibility to do so. This category includes activities like cooperating with an investigation or encouraging others to blow the whistle.
These same prohibitions apply to adverse action. Employers cannot discipline, reassign, demote, or take any other action against employees who participate in protected activities.
Missouri might be an at-will state, but employees still have rights. For a free consultation with an experienced employment law attorney in Kansas City, contact the Krause and Kinsman Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Jackson County and nearby jurisdictions.
Adam Krause is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Adam Krause has made a career of taking complicated litigation and presenting it in the most elementary terms for a jury of your peers to understand. Learn more about his experience here.