Wrongful Discharge

For many years, the doctrine of employment at will prevented nonunion employees from successfully challenging discharge in most situations.

This doctrine generally allows employment termination for any reason, if the employee is not covered by a collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract for a specific period of time, and if there is no violation of a specific law such as a discrimination statute.

The 1980s saw a nationwide boom in wrongful discharge litigation, encouraged by court decisions creating exceptions to employment at will. The pace of change in wrongful discharge law settled down considerably in the 1990s. More recently, there have been some significant changes in this area of Missouri employment law.

Employment at will is still the prevailing rule in that merely showing that a discharge was based on poor managerial judgment or a mistaken understanding of the facts, or was otherwise “unfair” or “wrongful” is normally insufficient to establish a valid wrongful discharge claim.

Rather, a discharged employee must find an exception that fits — with the type and number of available exceptions varying from state to state.

Public Policy Exceptions to Employment At Will

In many states, an employee may have a valid wrongful discharge claim if the discharge violated public policy because it was in retaliation for the employee:

  • Exercising rights under the state’s workers’ compensation law
  • Reporting allegations of unlawful conduct to his or her superiors or government authorities (“whistleblowing”)
  • Refusing to engage in unlawful conduct
  • Participating in acts public policy encourages, such as jury duty or seeking public office

How We Can Help

The attorneys of Harris Dowell Fisher & Harris, L.C., have extensive experience representing employers in wrongful discharge litigation. We also routinely advise employers on termination of employees, assisting our clients in carrying out these decisions in a manner calculated to minimize legal exposure.

In addition, we often assist clients in preparing and updating employee handbooks and policies to best preserve the at-will status of employees.

Contact us to discuss how we may best assist you in this regard.

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