An ongoing issue in Missouri workers’ compensation law is when an employer can fire a worker after they’ve filed a workers’ compensation claim. Our next several workers’ compensation blog posts will deal with the last few years of developments on this issue. In this post, we’ll go over the way Missouri handled this problem before 2014. The following posts will deal with:
- The Missouri Supreme Court case that changed everything,
- The legislative bill that was meant to overturn the court case, and
- How things will stand, once the bill becomes law.
An Overview of Workers’ Compensation Law in Missouri
Workers’ compensation laws in the United States are enacted by each state. This means each state has its own unique workers’ compensation law, with its own unique eccentricities to it. To make things even more complicated, each state’s courts interpret the law in its own way. As a result, even if two states have workers’ compensation laws that say the exact same thing, courts could, in theory, decide that they have two different meanings.
In Missouri, this law is found in Chapter 287 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Especially important is 287.780, which allows employees to sue their employers if they get discharged or discriminated against for exercising their rights under Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws. The point of 287.780 was to prevent employers from squelching any workers’ compensation claims by simply firing anyone who spoke up.
However, this raised a problem: How could courts tell that the discharge or discrimination was because of the employee raising their workers’ compensation rights?
Causal Connection Between Claim and Discharge
The issue came to a head in the 1978 case of Mitchell v. St. Louis County. There, a worker was fired six months after filing a workers’ compensation claim for a back injury. The court, however, sided with the employer after the employer showed evidence that the dismissal was because of the worker’s excessive absenteeism, and that this time missed from work was unrelated to their injury. This suggested that there needed to be a causal relationship between the workers’ compensation claim and the discharge, but the court didn’t say what that relationship was.
Six years later, in Hansome v. Northwestern Cooperage Co., the Supreme Court of Missouri decided that there had to be “an exclusive causal relationship” between the workers’ compensation claim and the employer discriminating against or firing them: The employer could fire or discriminate against a worker as much as they wanted, so long as it was not solely for their workers’ compensation claim.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at the Smith Law Office
This was the way the law was in Missouri for years. As long as employers could come up with some reason – even if it was a tiny reason – to fire someone after they make a workers’ compensation claim, they could do it and the worker would not be able to sue for the employer’s retaliatory action. Our next blog post will focus on the Missouri Supreme Court case that changed everything.