Employment At-Will Doctrine in Missouri and Wrongful Termination

Many employees who have been terminated want to sue for "wrongful termination" or "wrongful discharge." In Missouri, employees work at will, but some reasons for firing employees are still illegal.

A common question many terminated employees have is whether they can sue their employers for wrongful termination or wrongful discharge. In Missouri, employees may be terminated any time, as long as they do not have an employment contract promising them employment for a specific period of time. This rule is commonly called the employment-at-will doctrine.

Statutory Exceptions to At-Will Employment

Under the at-will doctrine, either the employee or the employer can choose to sever their relationship at any time. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

If the employee has been discharged based upon the individual's race, color, age, religion, disability, gender, national origin, or pregnancy, then the employee may have protected legal rights under:

  • the Civil Rights Act (Title VII)
  • the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), or
  • the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also protects an employee's right to return to work after taking leave for certain reasons.

Other Exceptions to the At-Will Doctrine

The Missouri courts have recognized several other exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. An employee may have a claim for wrongful discharge if the employee was fired for filing a workers' compensation claim, reporting wrongdoings or violations of law, refusing to commit a crime or to act contrary to public policy, or performing a civic duty such as serving on a jury or participating as a witness in an investigation. In each of these examples, the employee must prove that he or she was terminated for one of these reasons.

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If you are terminated and believe that your legal rights were violated, you should contact an employment lawyer right away.

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